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Robert Gagne's

Conditions of Learning


Basic Assumptions:

Gagne's theory is based upon assumptions that human learning is generalized to a variety of situations. Learning also is directly tied to physical growth, and that complex skills are built upon previously learned skills. Learning new skills or content can be accomplished by analyzing the hierarchy of which the learning is taking place and identifying prerequisites at each level. This helps provide a basis for the instruction that should occur at appropriate times.


Components of the theory:

Robert Gagne's theory on conditions of learning states that there are several different levels of learning. Accordingly, each different type of learning method requires a different type of instruction.

Gagne identifies five major categories of learning:

  1. verbal information
  2. intellectual skills
  3. motor skills
  4. cognitive strategies
  5. attitude

He goes on to explain that there are nine phases of learning:

  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)


Assumptions involving instruction:

Gagne's theory in relation to educational instruction states that a students environment plays a major role in their development. This means that learning can occur whether or not instruction is present. Instructional design should be developed to not produce learning, but to support the students' internal processing.


Components of Instruction:

Basing instruction on Gagne's theory involves five recommendations:

1. Instruction should be varied to meet different learning outcomes.

2. Learning occurs within the learner according to Gagne's conditions of learning.

3. Specific operations that make up instructional events are varied for each different type of learning outcome.

4. Learning hierarchies determine what intellectual skills should be learned according to a sequence of instruction.

5. Instruction should be designed based upon the way in which humans learn


Educational Issues:

A few educational issues invoked by Gagne's theory include the teaching of "how-to-learn" skills, invoking motivation, and teaching problem solving. Teaching students to monitor their own learning vs. teaching just the content is something to be debated in the educational arena. Likewise, relating motivation skills to the actual content being taught and incorporating problem-solving skills into lessons are addressed by Robert's theory.


Classroom Strategies:

Using Robert Gagne's theory in the classroom involves mapping out lessons according to his nine instructional events. Lessons also need to be developed to meet a variety of learning types. The following example demonstrates how the nine instructional events can be used in the science classroom for teaching cells:

1. Gain attention - show a model of an animal cell
2. Identify objective - ask students "What is a cell?"
3. Recall prior learning - review prior knowledge of human anatomy (including organs and systems)
4. Present stimulus - give definition of animal cell
5. Guide learning- use microscope to view cheek cells
6. Elicit performance - ask students to draw cheek cell and label parts
7. Provide feedback - check drawings for accuracy
8. Assess performance- provide grades and remediation if necessary
9. Enhance retention/transfer - show picture of cell and have students identify parts






Conditions of Learning (R. Gagne). Retrieved on February 10,


Gredler, M.E. (2001). Learning and instruction: Theory into practice. (4th ed.) Upper Saddle River, New

Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

The PSI Café. Retrieved on February 10,





Created by Elizabeth Meredith, February 22, 2004 for NOVA graduate program requirements.