Instructional Design: Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction

While it is true that eLearning has made receiving and assimilating knowledge more convenient, it does not come without its challenges. The main obstacle in eLearning is capturing and keeping learners’ attention. According to a Microsoft study, the current average attention span of a person is a mere 8 seconds. This illustrates the need for great emphasis to be placed on the instructional design of online courses.

This is where Gagne’s nine events of instruction help. Robert Gagne, an American educational psychologist, introduced the nine events of instruction in 1965 as a guide to successful learning. While the events were originally not meant for an eLearning environment, applying the same principles in online learning can help instructional designers create effective learning experiences. Let’s have a look at how online courses can incorporate Gagne’s 9 events in their instructional design.

1. Gain the Learners’ Attention

The most important instructional design aspect in eLearning has to do with gaining students’ attention. In an online learning environment where students can potentially get distracted by several stimuli, Gagne advises coming up with ways to maintain students’ attention. This is especially a challenge since the instructors have only a few seconds to make a sufficient impact on the learners.

One of the best ways to achieve this is by starting the course with a thoughtful or emotionally provoking nugget of information. This could be also supplemented by creating a narrative around the course outline. Other methods could leverage eye-catching video or animation effects like creating an avatar or responding to an interactive interface.

2. Make the Course Objectives Clear

A good instructional design also relies heavily on clarity and simplicity. If learners are aware of the way a course will progress and can peruse the outline at their convenience, they are more likely to be invested in the learning process. Gagne instructs that these objectives must be measurable and observable. 

It is important that the course objectives are easily understood, not overly complicated, and unintimidating. Having an idea of what to expect in the course, learners can have a sense of control over their progress. In online courses, having a clear, accessible course outline near the beginning of the course merits good instructional design.

3. Stimulate Past Learning Experiences

Using past learning experiences to gain familiarity with new content is a great way to motivate online learners. A good instructional design calls for teachers to build a familiar ground for students by leveraging prior knowledge. Relating new content to previously learned information causes better retention. 

Online courses could begin with a short recap of their previously learned content before diving into unfamiliar territory. It is also possible to create interactive scenarios for students to participate in, which rely on the use of past knowledge. Additionally, asking students to summarize what they already know about the topic beforehand ensures that a recall effort has been made by the learners. 

4. Present the Learners with New Content

Now we reach the stage where instructors should start sharing new and unfamiliar concepts with students. According to Gagne, several techniques could be used to present the information in a meaningful way. This makes sure that the new information is being assimilated in the most efficient way possible.

In eLearning, this means giving students a variety of modes of instruction to choose from. The lecture could be presented in a video or as a podcast, or even lecture slides filled with small, easily digestible nuggets of information. Gamifying course content is also an instructional design method aimed at making a lasting impression on learners.

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5. Provide Guidance

Apart from delivering the new content, it is also a part of the instructors’ duties to provide guidance on how students could learn the material. Recommending mnemonic devices, concept maps or summaries is one way to go about it. Flashcards, case studies, and analogies are also part of the recommended instructional design for thoughtful online learning experiences.

Instructional Design: Gagne's 9 Events of Instruction

6. Practice Makes Perfect

Having presented students with new content and learning guidance, it is essential to have them practice their learning. Without practice, it is difficult to assess how much of the information has been retained. Applying what is learned in a practical context is a great way to incorporate instructional design in eLearning.

There are several kinds of tests learners can attempt online. The most common of which would be multiple choice or scenario-based questions, often gamified to stimulate a response. Other interactive quizzes and small assessments could be peppered throughout the course to gauge how much content is assimilated. 

Social learning can also be encouraged by assigning group assignments and projects that require students to apply what they have learned.

7. Share Feedback with the Learners

Students wouldn’t know how well they’re doing until they receive feedback from their instructors. Timely feedback is an essential aspect of instructional design in online courses. It is important to provide the right kind of feedback in the appropriate circumstances. 

In many cases, just letting students know about their incorrect responses without clarifying the correct options is counterproductive. Instead, the feedback could also incorporate the overall evaluation of a student, combined with the way to progress forward. Another scenario would be for peers to evaluate each other or for learners to evaluate themselves. In all cases, the feedback itself has a major impact on the learners’ future success.

8. Put it to Test

Aside from practice, which we discussed earlier, instructional design calls for the need to have formal assessments to determine which learning outcomes have been achieved. These assessments need to be timely and fixed at certain intervals throughout the progression of the course. A pre and post-assessment are a great means to compare the relative knowledge gain. Mid-term assessments can also help drive the point home.

9. Facilitate Retention and Transfer

Having maintained great course progress, it is important to finish strong. Gagne’s final event suggests that using the newly learned material in real-world applications doesn’t only help with retention, but also gives the students new tools to apply in their practical lives. 

The application of this instructional design principle involves the distribution of references or job guides among students, where a summary of the materials learned can be used to quickly recall and apply everything that has been learned so far. It is also important to push students to think about how they may apply the content they have retained in their actual lives. 


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The principles of good instructional design are not really a mystery. Despite that, many online course authors struggle with creating engaging learning experiences. The difference lies in finding the right way to adapt Gagne’s events of instruction in the context of eLearning. With the incorporation of thoughtful instructional design, learners can retain information better, perform well in assessments and apply all they have learned in their practical life. 

While these events may seem overwhelming to take in, Edly is here to break that down for you. Our simple and effective instructional design process aims to help you develop engaging courses that keep learners hooked. Book a Free Demo to learn more about how Edly ensures Gagne’s 9 events of instruction are well incorporated into our learning environment.

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