Robert M. Gagné
For as much as I am drawn to the behaviorist learning theory, I find that I also identify quite frequently with the cognitive learning theory. Specifically, I have read a great deal of information about Robert M. Gagné, and I find his conditions of learning to be a frequent part of the Corporate Training Programs I teach. In this post, I will describe Gagné’s conditions of learning, why it works well for me as a student, and why I tend to use it as an instructor.
Merriam, Caffarella, and Baumgartner (2007) categorize Gagné as a cognitive learning theorist because he has worked heavily on “Linking instruction to the acquisition and processing of knowledge” (p. 286). Specifically, Gagné is well known for his nine instructional events and the corresponding learning processes for designing instruction. The nine instructional events are (1) gaining attention, (2) informing learners of the objectives, (3) stimulating recall of prerequisite learning, (4) presenting the material, (5) providing learning guidance, (6) eliciting performance, (7) providing feedback, (8) assessing performance, and (9) enhancing retention and transfer (Gagné, 1985). When these nine events occur in Corporate Training Programs, there is a greater chance of ensuring that learning occurs. This has been very true in my own education.
I have been a student in some way throughout my entire life. As such, I have learned what works well for me as a learner. Gagné’s nine instructional events have been a great way for me to learn. For example, I can vividly recall some of the best classes I have taken by the ways in which the instructor gained my attention. In addition, if there is a connection between what I previously knew to what I was about to be taught, it was much easier for me to learn the material. Feedback from instructors has also always been a very important part of learning for me. If I am going to make an effort to do my best, I believe that instructors should provide meaningful feedback. Without that feedback, I would have very little way of knowing if I was actually learning the material. These particular events of instruction also occur in my own Corporate Training Programs.
In addition to the events I mentioned that I appreciate as a student, there are other events that I frequently use in my Corporate Training Programs. For example, I always provide objectives to the students at the beginning of a class, if not before the class. These objectives act as a roadmap, and they help the students find some structure in what is being taught. Additionally, I also feel that students need to perform what is being taught to them. (I am certain that this is the behaviorist in me.) Because of this, I have frequent hands-on activities to allow the students to practice what they are learning. Finally, I believe that it is also my responsibility to provide a bridge from the classroom to the job. In other words, I look for ways to ensure that learning is retained and transferred to the job. This type of accountability also ensures that the students make every effort to learn what is being taught.
Gagné is a learning theorist with whom I can easily identify. His nine instructional events have played important roles in my own education as well as in the Corporate Training Programs I teach. Although I consider myself to be more of a behaviorist, I find that I can closely relate to the cognitivist theories as well.
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Gagne, R. M., (1985). The conditions of learning and theory of instruction. New York: CBS College Publishing.
Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.