A little knowledge of learning science can have an enormous impact on your association’s education programs. Robert Gagne introduced his 9 events of instruction back in 1965, but these principles are still supported by research and followed by instructional designers today.
A primer on Gagne’s 9 events of instruction
Online learning wasn’t around in Gagne’s day, but his approach is highly recommended for online courses and other virtual education programs. Incorporate these nine steps into the design and delivery of each lesson or module in your online courses.
#1: Grab the learner’s attention.
Prepare learners to fully engage in what’s happening on their screens. Draw them in and capture their interest. This part of the learning experience shouldn’t feel like work for them—keep it fun and relevant.
• Start with something unexpected but related to the topic at hand.
• Ask a thought-provoking or controversial question for group discussion or individual reflection.
• Present a problem.
• Do an ice-breaker activity.
• Get them involved in an interactive small group exercise.
• Relate an interesting, relevant tale, case study, or news story.
• Present a short, entertaining video that introduces the topic—think in terms of a movie trailer.
#2: Explain the objective.
Prime learners by reviewing what they can expect to learn. Don’t rehash the dry, official learning objective they may have read elsewhere. Describe the practical knowledge they can expect to take away from this lesson and how this information will benefit them, i.e., what’s in it for them. For asynchronous courses, start each lesson with a slide explaining the objective.
#3: Stimulate recall of prior learning.
Effective learning builds upon what the student already knows. Help learners see the connection between the lesson’s content and their existing knowledge. You want them to bring this related knowledge or experience into their working memory so they can layer new knowledge onto it.
• Ask learners to discuss their pre-existing knowledge or experiences with the topic.
• Recall earlier course content related to the current lesson and ask open-ended questions about it.
• Ask learners to take a self-assessment to see what they remember.
• Post open-ended questions related to pre-existing knowledge in the online discussion forum.
• Give a pop quiz about prior course content related to this lesson.
• Present a scenario or problem for them to solve based on pre-existing knowledge, then present them with the new information they need to resolve the situation.
#4: Present the content.
Breaking content into digestible chunks makes it easier for the learner to retain new information. Use active learning strategies as often as possible so learners are more involved in wrapping their minds around new information instead of only passively listening, reading, or watching. Deliver the content via a mix of methods:
• Narrated slideshows
• Reading (PDFs, blogs, articles, chapters, slides)
• Interactive videos
• Interviews and panel discussions
• Video and audio recordings
• Online discussion forums
#5: Provide learning guidance.
Don’t assume learners know to learn; many people were never taught this skill in school. Offer online learning strategies and tips during a pre-course orientation or as a supplement during the first few modules of the course.
Provide extremely clear instructions about everything—make no assumptions. Better yet, before launch, ask a few people to test the course to make sure it’s easy to navigate.
With each lesson, offer activities that will reinforce new knowledge, for example:
• Analogies, metaphors, examples
• Visual images, concept mapping
• Case studies, scenarios
• Guided activities
• Do’s and don’ts, common pitfalls
#6: Give learners the opportunity to practice.
Gagne calls this one: “elicit performance.” Learners must frequently apply and reinforce new information or skills in individual and/or group activities. Give them opportunities to recall and practice what they’ve been learning.
• Individual exercises
• Group exercises and discussions
• Multiple-choice or scenario-based questions
• Branching scenarios
• Quizzes to test comprehension and application
• Simulations, role-playing
• Drag-and-drop interactions
• Homework: written assignments, individual or group projects, presentations
#7: Provide timely and specific feedback.
Timely feedback is necessary so the learner can see whether they have mastered the new information or skill, and where and how they need to improve. The instructor can provide specific feedback, or you can use your LMS’s built-in feedback or branching tools. When learners put new information into practice (#6), let them know what they’re getting right and wrong, and why, and provide hints to help them get to the right answer on their own.
#8: Assess performance.
See how well learners achieve the learning objectives by testing their mastery of new skills and knowledge—no hints allowed this time. This experience will determine whether they are ready to move onto the next lesson.
Build assessments—pop and scheduled quizzes, homework and project assignments, and exams—throughout the course so the instructor and/or learners can discover knowledge gaps sooner rather than later.
#9: Enhance retention and transfer.
Help learners retain and transfer new skills or knowledge to their job by connecting what they’ve learned to real-world applications.
• Provide take-away reference materials or ask learners to create their own.
• Ask learners how they will use what they’ve learned at work.
• Have a discussion about applying new knowledge on the job.
• Practice work-like scenarios in which they apply new knowledge.
Instructional designers have these nine principles firmly embedded in their minds as they develop education and training programs. If you’re responsible for developing or overseeing education programs—courses, conference sessions, workshops, webinars, etc.—share these nine events of instruction with your presenters and instructors and watch the effectiveness ratings of your programs rise.