Learning Theory

 In our development of this instructional media, Robert Gagne's "Conditions of Learning" was used for the framework. This page will give you:
1. An overview of the Conditions of Learning theory including the nine instructional events and its corresponding learning processes that guide the design of instruction.
2. How we used his theory to develop this instructional media.

Becky & Dave

An Overview

Theory: Conditions of Learning           Theorist: Robert M. Gagne

 Essence of Theory:

 During the 1960s (Anglin, 1991), there was a flurry of activity within the field of instructional development that focused on systems of instruction. It was during this time that the components of the instructional system and their system properties were articulated. In 1965 Robert Gagne published his book entitled The Conditions of Learning. In his book, Gagne (1965) described the analysis of learning objectives, and how these different classes of learning objectives relate to the appropriate instructional designs.

 Gagne (1985), distinguishes between two types of conditions, internal and external. The internal conditions can be described as "states" and include attention, motivation and recall. The external conditions can be thought of as factors surrounding one's behavior, and include the arrangement and timing of stimulus events. Thus, his phases of learning include:

        Phase I: receiving the stimulus situation

        Phase II stage of acquisition

        Phase III storage

        Phase IV retrieval

 In their book Norton and Wilburg (1998) describe Gagne's (1965) outcomes or objects of learning which consist of five major categories of human capabilities:

        Verbal information-ex. learning the alphabet.

        Intellectual skills-ex. addition and subtraction

        Cognitive strategies- inductive & deductive reasoning; exploring the action of a magnet.

        Attitudes-ex. how one feels about reading a book

        Motor skills-ex. fastening buttons.

 According to Norton and Wilburg (1998) Gagne's (1965) model for design of instruction includes a sequence of nine instructional events and its corresponding learning processes that guide the design of instruction.  

Instructional Event

Relation to Learning Process

1. Gaining attention

Reception of patterns of neural impulses

2. Informing learner of the objective(s)

Activating a process of executive control

3. Stimulating recall of prerequisite learning

Retrieval of prior learning to working memory

4. Presenting the stimulus material

Emphasizing features for selective perception

5. Providing learning guidance

Semantic encoding; cues for retrieval

6. Eliciting the performance

Activating response organization

7. Providing feedback about performance

Establishing reinforcement

8. Assessing performance

Activating retrieval; making reinforcement possible

9. Enhancing retention and transfer

Providing cues and strategies for retrieval

 Implications for Instructional Technology:

 Gagne's (1965) theory of conditions of learning has several implications for instructional technology. The design of instruction should involve: analyzing requirements, selecting media and designing the instructional events. Additionally the instructional technologist must keep in mind the following learning concepts when developing methods of instruction.

        Skills should be learned on at a time and each new skill learned should build on previously acquired skills

        The analysis phase must identify and describe the prerequisite lower level skills and knowledge required for an instructional objective

        Lower level objectives must be mastered before higher level ones

        Objectives must be stipulated in concrete behavioral terms

        Positive reinforcement should be used in a repetitive manner

Gagne's (1965) work has made significant contributions to the scientific knowledge base in the field of instructional technology particularly in the area of instructional design. He outlined several steps that should be used to plan and design instruction; these include:

        Identify the types of learning outcomes

        Each outcome may have prerequisite knowledge or skills that must be identified

        Identify the internal conditions or processes the learner must have to achieve the outcomes

        Identify the external conditions or instruction needed to achieve the outcomes

        Specify the learning context

        Record the characteristics of the learners

        Select the media for instruction

        Plan to motive the learners

        The instruction is tested with learners in the form of formative evaluation

        After the instruction has been used, summative evaluation is used to judge the effectiveness of the instruction 

Learning Concept: Transfer of Learning 

Essence of Concept:
Transfer of learning can be defined as the effective application by students of the knowledge and skills gained as a result of attending an educational program. This transferring of learning occurs when learning in one context or with one set of materials impacts on performance in another context or with other related materials. Transfer of learning occurs whenever prior learned knowledge and skills affect the way in which new knowledge and skills are learned and performed (Cormier & Hagman, 1987).

 The transfer of learning (transfer of training) is a key concept in adult theories of learning, because most education and training instruction aspires to transfer this knowledge to "real world" situations. The context of learning usually differs somewhat from the actual context of application; thus the end goals of education and training are not achieved unless this transfer takes place. (Cormier & Hagman, 1987).

 Work by Perkins and Salomon (1996) in the area of transfer theory suggest that transfer is a multi-faceted phenomena of at least two distinct mechanisms- the low road and the high road. Low road transfer occurs when conditions in the transfer context are similar to those in a previous context of learning to trigger well developed semi-automatic responses. This type of transfer would occur, say for example, in a person who rents a truck to move their household belongings. They find that the familiar steering wheel, shift and other features evoke useful cardriving responses. Driving the truck is an almost automatic response even though it is a different task, which varies in only several minor ways.  

 High road transfer depends on abstraction from the context of learning as a deliberate search for connections, such as; What is needed?, What is the general pattern?, and What is known that might help? For example leadership strategies learned in a leadership class might be drawn upon to solve new problems that involve leadership issues.

 Implications for Instructional Technology:

 Designers of instructional material must keep in mind the barriers and enhancers that effect the transfer of learning when developing different methods of instruction. Barriers are seen as factors that inhibit the transfer of learning in the workplace. Barriers include factors such as:

        No time to incorporate what they have learned into job tasks - Participant

        Program lacks application to the job - Program Design

        Students can't use the information - Program Content

        Offers a non-supportive climate for learning - Organizational

Enhancers on the other hand support the transfer of learning. Enhancers include factors such as:

        A willingness to take the time to apply that learning - Participant

        Includes application exercises as a major part of the instructional activities - Program Design

        Builds on previous knowledge and experience of participants - Program Content

        Offers support from key personnel along with tangible rewards - Organizational


 Cormier, S., and Hagmam, J. (1987). Transfer of Learning. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. 

Anglin, G. J., (1991) Instructional Technology: Past, Present, and Future. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.

 Gagne, R. M., (1985) The Conditions of Learning and Theory of Instruction. New York: CBS College Publishing.

 Norton, P. and Wiburg, K. M. (1998) Teaching With Technology. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace & Company.

 Perkins, D., and Salomon, G. (1996). Learning transfer. In A. Tuijnman (Ed.), International encyclopedia of adult education and training. Kidlington, Oxford: Pergamon Press.

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Relationship of Learning Theory to Instructional Design

Theory: Conditions of Learning             Theorist: Robert M. Gagne

Our instructional design problem involves developing a workshop that teaches our undergraduate nurses the proper techniques for initiation and maintenance of peripheral intravenous (IV) therapy. This is a clinical skill that requires the learner to use four of Gagne's (1985) five outcomes or objects of learning (human capabilities); verbal information, intellectual skills, cognitive strategies and motor skills.

 Central to Gagne's theory on conditions of learning is that instruction must be designed specifically in the context of the learner's needs. Instruction should be designed to include a variety of instructional methods in order to meet the needs of different learners. In applying this to my evolving instructional design I've centered it around Gagne's (1985) nine instructional events. 

Instructional Event

Training Activity

1. Gaining attention

Distribute course outline and training agenda

2. Informing learner of the objective(s)

Discussion of student centered learning objectives

3. Stimulating recall of prerequisite learning

Have students complete pre-test available at the on-line site, prior workshop 

4. Presenting the stimulus material

Have students review on-line Web tutorial prior to skills workshop

5. Providing learning guidance

Text, audio, and images will be incorporated into the on-line tutorial and the hands-on workshop to enhance the encoding of material

6. Eliciting the performance

Students will attend an eight hour hands-on workshop to practice skills

7. Providing feedback about performance

Students to practice skills with partner and teacher as mentor and facilitator

8. Assessing performance

Teacher to assess skills in hands-on competency sessions

9. Enhancing retention and transfer

Apply transfer of learning strategies as discussed below

Transfer of Learning

Transfer of learning is a key learning concept in my instructional design, and is essential if the student is to achieve the learning objectives. Hospitals (organizations) assume that our graduating nursing students are competent in the initiation and maintenance of peripheral intravenous (IV) therapy. This is why it is very important to ensure that transfer of learning takes place in training sessions.

 Transfer of Learning can be incorporated into my instructional design using several different learning strategies, such as:


Gagne, R. M., (1985) The Conditions of Learning and Theory of Instruction. New York: CBS College Publishing.

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