Conditions of Learning

Robert Gagne was an experimental psychologist who was concerned with learning and instruction for several decades. His earlier work was in a behaviorist tradition, but later he was influenced by the information-processing view of learning and memory. He is well known for his synthesis of research on learning and the identification of internal and external conditions of learning.

Gagne stressed that different variables influence the learning of different types of tasks. He identified five categories of Learning.

Categories of Learning

  1. Intellectual skills: Create individual competence and ability to respond to stimuli.
  2. Cognitive strategies: Capability to learn, think, and remember
  3. Verbal information: Rote memorization of names, faces, dates, phone numbers, etc.
  4. Motor skills: Capability to learn to drive, ride a bike, draw a straight line, etc.
  5. Attitudes: Approach to ideas, people, or situations, that affects how one acts towards these things.

Each category requires different methods in order for the particular skill set to be learned.

Gagne suggests that learning tasks for intellectual skills can be organized in a hierarchy according to complexity: stimulus recognition, response generation, procedure following, use of terminology, discriminations, concept formation, rule application, and problem solving. The primary significance of the hierarchy is to identify prerequisites that should be completed to facilitate learning at each level. Prerequisites are identified by doing a task analysis of a learning/training task. Learning hierarchies provide a basis for the sequencing of instruction.

In addition, the theory outlines

Nine instructional events and corresponding cognitive processes:

  1. Gaining attention (reception)
  2. Informing learners of the objective (expectancy)
  3. Stimulating recall of prior learning (retrieval)
  4. Presenting the stimulus (selective perception)
  5. Providing learning guidance (semantic encoding)
  6. Eliciting performance (responding)
  7. Providing feedback (reinforcement)
  8. Assessing performance (retrieval)
  9. Enhancing retention and transfer (generalization).

Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction provide the framework or guidelines with which to prepare and deliver instructional content. Course goals and learning objectives should be created before implementing the nine events. These objectives must then be categorized into one of the five domains of learning outcomes. Each of the objectives must be stated in performance terms using one of the standard verbs (i.e. states, discriminates, classifies, etc.) associated with the particular learning outcome. The instructor then uses the conditions of learning for the particular learning outcome to determine the conditions necessary for learning. And finally, the events of instruction necessary to promote the internal process of learning are chosen and put into the lesson plan. 

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