Expanding On The Nine Events Of Instruction

Learning and instructional theories are the framework of Instructional Design. We rely on these theories to make design decisions that help us predict what will happen during a learning experience.

That’s why I like to go back and review some of the classic learning theories, because when you understand them well, you feel the freedom to create new approaches that work in your current context. So on one recent wild night, when I was browsing through Smith and Ragan’s textbook, Instructional Design, I came across a different and expanded version of Gagne’s Events of Instruction.


In case you missed out on this theory, the Events of Instruction were proposed by Educational Psychologist, Robert Gagne. He describes nine specific internal processes that occur when a person is engaged in learning and how you can support these processes through steps called the events of instruction. Although Gagne’s initial orientation focused on teacher-centered instruction, he later showed how this approach could be used for technology-based learning too.

Gagne’s Events of Instruction form a compelling foundation for Instructional Design, however, there is the sense that the learner is somewhat passive. So I liked Smith and Ragan’s expanded approach of learner-generated instructional events. And I’ve added my own modifications to theirs. It’s all mashed together in the table below.

Learner-generated Version

The column on the left captures the internal processes of learning, according to Gagne. The middle column, which is still useful, shows ways to provide instructional support to promote each internal process. Finally, the column on the right shows how an intrinsically motivated learner can self-generate the processes of instruction.

Internal Learning Process

Supporting Instructional Event

Learner- generated Event

1. AlertnessGain learner attentionActivate your attention
2. ExpectancyInform learner of lesson objective; stimulate learner's attention; provide overviewEstablish your purpose; arouse interest and motivation; preview the content
3. Retrieval to working memoryStimulate recall of prior learningRecall relevant prior knowledge
4. Selective PerceptionPresent information and examplesProcess information and examples
5. Semantic EncodingGuide learning; prompt use of learning strategiesRefocus attention; employ individual learning strategies
6. Retrieval and respondingElicit performancePractice
7. ReinforcementProvide informative feedbackEvaluate feedback
8. Cueing retrievalAssess performanceAssess your own performance
9. GeneralizingEnhance retention and learning transferTransfer learning to the real world

Practical Application

There are practical reasons for expanding Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction. It not only describes how a person might learn independently, it gives us another way to think about supporting the learning experience. For example, if you’re using Thiagi’s Four Door Model, you might choose to include a highly motivating social media component to support the second process of learning—Expectancy. Through social media, people who have taken the course could share how it helped them solve on-the-job problems. This might be the push that motivates an independent learner.

Or it might encourage you to support the Semantic Encoding process in new ways. You might help learners understand different learning strategies they can use, such as creating mental images or mind-mapping, to encourage them to find ones that work with their individual strengths.  (Note: Semantic Encoding refers to writing new information into long-term memory in a meaningful context as opposed to encoding through rote memorization that has little meaning.)

This is an exciting time to be designing learning experiences and I think we need to continue to expand our design options. Adapting classic learning theories to today’s workplace environment is one way to achieve this.

How do you support learners to take charge of their own learning?

Related Articles:

The Four Door Model: Rapid eLearning Design
Cognitive Psychology Anyone?
10 Relevant Facts About The Brain

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  1. Ammar says

    Nice post :)
    The Cagne’s learning framework was adapted for e-learning by Broadbent. I used it for blended learning with much success.

  2. andrea says

    I think that Gagnes events may be suitable if you are focusing on just learning information, but I think it has its limitations. It is based in the concept that learning is essentially a passive activity, and where you can predict what the outcome will be “by the end of this course, the student will be able to …”. If the more recent theories are true, then we cannot predict the info students will learn, as they build knowledge, so it depends on what the students background, experience, culture etc is. (we need to focus on skills they need, not just the content) Therefore, I think Instruction Design really needs a basis that assumes learning is social & constructive, so I would go for sociocultural/sociconstructivist theories as my foundation

  3. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Andrea,
    Thanks for your comment. Yes, I agree that this model is pretty passive. That’s why I thought readers might like to see a way to expand the model with the third column shown in the table. We have to find ways to allow learners to construct their own knowledge in their own way.

  4. Shirlette Ferrari says

    How do you support learners to take charge of their own learning?

    I am currently pursuing my Masters in Instructional design and technology and I am presently exploring how I can support learners to take charge of their learning. I recently started the program so I do not have the wealth of knowledge and/or experience as yet.
    Nilson (1995) posits that learners on their own need to know how to take charge of their own learning. They also need to practice “metacognitive strategies in which they first define the big picture of what they need to know. Holec (1981) further postulates that, learner autonomy is the ability to “take charge of one’s own learning”, noting that this ability “is not inborn but
    must be acquired either by ‘natural’ means or (as most often happens) by formal learning.

    In helping learners to take charge of their learning I would plan and develop meaningful instructional materials that are interactive and student centered.

    Using Gagne’s Nine Events of Instructions, I would apply the following to instructional design:
    1. GAIN ATTENTION. In order to captivate the attention of learners I would utilize audio such as music, podcasts, sound effects visuals such as videos, digital stories, animations.
    2. EXPECTANCY. Inform learners of objectives. Use blogs, social network, wiki sites, and discussion forums to motivate learners. Share success stories of others.
    3. Retrieval to working memory-on line games, riddles, quizzes etc. (these should provide information on whether learners have the prerequisites for new topic).
    4. SELECTIVE PERCEPTION. This is where you get learners to focus on the important features of the instructional presentation. Instructional designers can use presentations, case scenarios, discussion forums and other media.
    5. SEMANTIC ENCODING. –use of graphic organizers, diagrams, outlines, discussion forums, blogs, reflections.
    6. RETRIEVAL AND RESPONDING—on line quiz, webquests, production of materials (learners are expected to utilize or apply what they have learned). Assessment is crucial here so rubrics can be used to help students identify given criteria in production of materials. Feedback is also essential so emails, online quiz feedback etc. Use of synchronous/asynchronous communication tools.
    7. REINFORCEMENT- Research, webquests, reflective essays, material production, projects
    8. CUEING RETRIEVAL- reflective writing, blogs, discussion forums
    9. GENERALIZING—Develop new materials, utilize creativity in different contexts .

    As I said earlier, I am new to this field so I am open for corrections and suggestions.

  5. Eric says

    I’m curious if Gagne outlines the amount of time (generally) that should be spent in each of the nine events.

    I’m beginning to dissect and revise some e-learning courses and am curious how much time I can expect a learner to devote to each event.


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