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.
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. Alertness||Gain learner attention||Activate your attention|
|2. Expectancy||Inform learner of lesson objective; stimulate learner's attention; provide overview||Establish your purpose; arouse interest and motivation; preview the content|
|3. Retrieval to working memory||Stimulate recall of prior learning||Recall relevant prior knowledge|
|4. Selective Perception||Present information and examples||Process information and examples|
|5. Semantic Encoding||Guide learning; prompt use of learning strategies||Refocus attention; employ individual learning strategies|
|6. Retrieval and responding||Elicit performance||Practice|
|7. Reinforcement||Provide informative feedback||Evaluate feedback|
|8. Cueing retrieval||Assess performance||Assess your own performance|
|9. Generalizing||Enhance retention and learning transfer||Transfer learning to the real world|
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.