Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Emphasizing the “Doing” in the Nine Events of Instruction

By Shelley A. Gable

We know that Robert Gagne’s nine events of instruction is a helpful guide for designing engaging eLearning.

But are you applying the model to design active training?

At a glance, it may seem as though the first five events are telling-oriented, or invoke passive learning tactics. That we must spend a lot of time presenting information before skills practice occurs. And then the grand finale of hands-on activities begins at the sixth event.

This would be consistent with what we often experience in training – lots of presentation followed by bursts of activity.

(For a quick overview of the nine events, click here.)

If we’re clever about our design, every event can actively engage learners. Let’s take a look at how this can work...

(1) Gain Attention + (3) Stimulate Recall
Though most articles list these as the first and third events, respectfully, I frequently combine them at or toward the beginning of an eLearning lesson.

For instance, you might present a workplace problem that learners can partially solve with existing knowledge. This prompts them to practice what they already know, while drawing their attention to what they must learn to complete the resolution.

It also establishes the relevance of the eLearning lesson’s content without having to explicitly state it.

(2) Inform Learners of Objectives
An incomplete resolution is an effective segue to this event. At this point, you might ask learners what they need to learn to finish solving the opening scenario. You might also ask them what resources they already know are available to help them (e.g., an EPSS or other knowledge management resource they’ve already been introduced to).

Though in fairness, you should probably clearly state the lesson’s objectives at some point, so that learners know explicitly what is expected of them.

(4) Present Content
While “telling” activities may make the most sense in some instances, we can often guide learners to learn through doing.

For instance, you might guide learners through a scenario, giving them just enough information along the way (or pointing them to available resources) to help them figure out how to progress through the steps.

You can use feedback to bring in additional information. When learners respond to a step correctly, you might use the feedback to explain how that logic applies to similar situations. Or, you might warn of exceptions to the rule. When learners answer incorrectly, use the feedback to offer hints to help them figure out the correct response.

(5) Provide Learning Guidance
I often combine this step with the previous one. Pointing learners to available resources to work their way through a scenario is a form of learning guidance. Prompting them to work through additional scenarios that illustrate varied examples and non-examples of the objective is another form of guidance.

Though again, I don’t necessarily want to discourage “telling” completely. Including an illustrative story can be impactful here (especially when presented with audio and/or video, so learners benefit from vocal and non-verbal expression as well). And offering simple analogies can work wonders for understanding concepts.

(6) Elicit Performance + (7) Provide Feedback
I think the “doing” element in these events is obvious. As long as the practice simulates the work environment as closely as possible, avoids “fluff” activities, and includes immediate and specific feedback, you’re probably in good shape.

(8) Assess Performance
A simulation-type of skill assessment is ideal here. Scenario-based knowledge assessments can be effective too.

(9) Enhance Retention and Transfer to the Job
If you’ve acquainted learners with on-the-job resources, ensured that they’ll immediately apply new skills on the job, and confirmed that they will receive support and coaching from their managers, you’re probably in good shape.

What do you do?
How do you design training to be as active as possible? Do you have other ways of combining these nine events?


  1. Thanks for your post, expanding further on point (7), (8) and (9), some of the research and work we have done in this area using suggests encouraging experts and senior staff in their field to interact more in discussions and meeting improves performance and enhances retention. This way junior staff can easily get the “right” feedback from their trusted network.

    David Dinh

  2. Great post! I found myself nodding in agreement, especially about combining Gain Attention with Stimulate Recall, and all before sharing the objectives! I too will also often combine New Content with Guided Practice. I design for F-2-F but also present regularly. I always use Gagne to structure my training and presentation design.

  3. David - Thanks for sharing a link to your research. Though this particular post doesn't discuss steps 7-9 at length, they're certainly critical steps...even deal-breakers, really, if not addressed well.

    Tracy - Glad to hear we're on the same page! It's always reassuring to know that others in the field have found success with similar practices.


Thank you for your comments.