Using Instructional Learning Theory as an Approach to Content Development

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  • Intellectual skills;
  • Cognitive strategies;
  • Motor skills; and,
  • Attitudes.

The Nine Instructional Events

Gagne proposed nine instructional events needed to facilitate learning. however, he also presented the concept that all nine may not be needed in all situations, depending upon the specific learning category involved. Let’s first consider the nine steps.

  • Informing learners of objectives — discuss what will be taught. The adage “tell them what you are going to teach them; teach them, and then tell them what they learned” comes to mind here. The idea is to set in motion what material you will be covering.
  • Stimulating recall of prior learning — ask questions to call upon what they already know. Many topics are related in some way to information and experiences the learner already has. This approach of building on prior knowledge helps learners form relationships between the known information and what they are about to learn, making it easier to associate and recall later.
  • Presenting the stimulus — teach the lesson. This is where we convey the information we are covering to the learners.
  • Providing learning guidance — allow teacher-facilitated student practice. As teachers, we can ask questions to elicit the application of the material just presented. This helps with association and recall, and integration with prior knowledge.
  • Eliciting performance — have learners complete a task on what was taught. Assignments of various natures help the learner apply the new knowledge and reinforce learning.
  • Providing feedback — let the learner know how they did on the task. Review the learner’s progress on completing the task so they can improve.
  • Assessing performance — evaluate learners on their knowledge of what was taught. Grades and other evaluation techniques are used to gauge the effectiveness of the learning process.
  • Enhancing retention and transfer — provide activity to help learners remember what was taught. Often this involves some sort of assignment or evaluation soon after the information was presented. Often the information is very “fresh” and the students can easily recall it, however, sometime later they have difficulty remembering it, suggesting the information was not learned.


There are four principles to this theory. 1. Different instruction is required for different learning outcomes. Not all learning outcomes, nor learners for that matter, are created equal. We need to consider alternative strategies based upon the content and the learner. 2. Events of learning operate on the learner in ways that constitute the conditions of learning. 3. The specific operations that constitute instructional events are different for each different type of learning outcome. We have seen already in two brief examples, how the conditions of learning can vary based upon the content. Another example is presented later in this article. 4. Learning hierarchies define what intellectual skills are to be learned and a sequence of instruction.

The Instructor’s Role

Based upon the desired learning outcomes and the learner’s characteristics, instructors need to arrange the conditions of learning and events of instruction to create a learning environment conducive to the content and the learning process.


The conditions of learning formulated by Gagne are similar to guidelines as they are more heuristic than prescriptive. This provides a lot of freedom for the instructor while remaining within the principles of the theory.


The comprehensive approach established by Gagne does not include any planning activities. For some, this may be a weakness, but on the other hand, I think more of this approach is related to planning — by working the conditions for learning as you are developing the structure and presentation strategies in the planning process, we get a solid content layout and presentation structure.

Example Application

The following example from Instructional Design illustrates a teaching sequence corresponding to the nine instructional events for the objective, Recognize an equilateral triangle:

  1. Identify objective — pose a question: “What is an equilateral triangle?”
  2. Recall prior learning — review definitions of triangles
  3. Present stimulus — define equilateral triangle
  4. Guide learning- show an example of how to create equilateral
  5. Elicit performance — ask students to create 5 different examples
  6. Provide feedback — check all examples as correct/incorrect
  7. Assess performance — provide scores and remediation
  8. Enhance retention/transfer — show pictures of objects and ask students to identify equilaterals.


Driscoll, M.P. (2005). Psychology of Learning for Instruction (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

About the Author

Chris is a highly-skilled Information Technology AWS Cloud, Training and Security Professional bringing cloud, security, training and process engineering leadership to simplify and deliver high-quality products. He is the co-author of more than seven books and author of more than 70 articles and book chapters in technical, management and information security publications. His extensive technology, information security, and training experience makes him a key resource who can help companies through technical challenges.


This article is Copyright © 2019, Chris Hare.

Chris is the co-author of seven books and author of more than 70 articles and book chapters in technical, management, and information security publications.

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