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Instructional Design  - Gagne & Briggs - A Summary
Winter 2002
Eugene G. Kowch
  Assistant Professor

Faculty of Education

A. Learning - Theory Background: Gagne & Briggs

Gagne and Briggs contributed greatly in answering three questions:

1. What is known about human learning that is relevant for the instructor?
2. How can that body of knowledge abe organized for application by designers of instruction?
3. What procedures should be followed in applying knowledge of human learning to the design of instruction?

It is Question 2 that we explore here...

A.1 Varieties of Learning

For Gagne, learning occurs when an individual aquires a particular capability to do something. Because the learned capability  is not observable, we observe the learner's behavior. Gagne emphasizes that different learned capabilities result in different learned outcomes. When these outcomes are aniticipated an planned, they are stated as instructional objectives.

Gagne then developed the Five Varieties of learning, giving a guide of performances that could correspond to certain learned capabilities.

Learned Capability
Intellectual Skill
Using concepts and rules to solve problems; responding to tclasses of stimuli as distinct from recalling specific examples.
Motor Skill
Executing body movements smoothly and in proper sequence
Verbal Information
Stating information
Cognitive Strategy
Originating novel solutions to problems; untilizing various means for controlling one's thinking / learning process
Choosing to behave in a particular way

A.2 Conditions of Learning

Gagne was the first to say that a different set of conditions needed to exist for certain learning outcomes to occur. He related the type of learning, to the internal and external conditions that promoted success in that type of learning.

Internal Conditions:  
Certain previous learnings must be recalled (as learning prerequisites) before som intellectual skills can be learned. For example, a person needs to know more to be able to use a rule than just to state the rule.

External Conditions:  
For a concept to be learned, a person must have opportunities to practice distinguishing correctly between examples and non examples. The following table summarizes the conditions of learning Gagne and Briggs founded.

Type of Learning
Internal Conditions
External Conditions
Cognitive Strategy
Recall of relevant rules and concepts
Successive presentation (usually over an extended time) of novel problem situations with class of solution unspecified).
Demonstration of solution by student
Verbal Information
Recall of larger meaningful content
Present new information in a larger context.
Recall of information and intellectual skills relevant to the targeted personal actions
Establishment or recall of respect for "source" (usually a person).
Motor Skill
Recall of component motor chains
Establishement or recall of executive subroutines (rules)
Practice of total skill

A.3 Subcategories of Intellectual Skills

Gagne showed that to the essential internal condition (prerequisite knowledge) must be known for us to observe learning. In the intellectual skills domain or learned capability, Gagne and Briggs found that there are sub categories of intellectual skiolls that can be observed by the following performances:

Type of Intellectual Skill
Performance visible
Higher order rule
Generate a new rule for solving a problem
Demonstrate the application of a rule
Defined Concept
Classify objects, events or states using verbal descriptions or definitions
Concrete Concept
Indentify instances of the concept by pointing to examples
Descriminate between stimuli that differ along one or more physical dimensions

B. Selecting Instructional Objectives and Sequencing Instruction

B.1 Prerequisites

There are essential prerequisites and supporting prerequisites that facilitiate learning.  Essential prerequisites are those subordinate skills that must have been previously learned to enable the learner to reach an objective. They also become a part of what is subsequently learned. For example, if a learner must learn how to add numbers, he must first learn the numbers themselves.  Supporting Prerequisites are those that are useful to facilitate learning but are not absolutely essential for the learning to occur.

B.2 Though this establishment of a hierarchy of intellectual skills G & B found that they could offer guides for selecting objectives and sequencing instruction for intellectual domain learning:

B. 3 Selecting Objectives for Intellectual-Skill Outcomes:

These intellectual skills were determined to fit into learning hierarchies. In other words, Gagne showed the instructor what to teach in order to derive an expected specific outcome.  Various skills identified as prerequisites (internal conditions) had to be met for external conditions to be observable.

B. 4 Sequencing Instruction:

In addition to telling instructors what had to be taught, he identified competencies that were prerequisites to higher level skill attainment. For example, prereqisites for learning the rule for writing and instructional objective using Gage and Briggs are the following concepts: situation, learned capability, object, action and tool sor constraings. The order in which each of these concepts is learned is not critical, but all have to be learned in order to write an obective embodying the concepts.

C. Instructional Events

C. 1 Definition

Instructional evenets are classes of events that occur in a learning situation.  Each event functions to provide the external conditions of learning.  Therefore, we design instruction in part by ensuring that the events used in instruction are planned to satisfy the necessary conditions of learning.

Essential and Supportive Prequisites
for the
Five Kinds of Learning Outcomes
(Gagne & Briggs, 1979).

Types of Learning Outcomes
Essential Prerequisites
Supportive Prerequisites
Intellectual Skill
Simpler component intellectual skills (rules, concepts, discriminations) Attitudes
Congitive Strategies
Verbal Information
Verbal Information
Meaningfully Organized sets of information
Language Skills
Congnitive Strategies
Cognitive Strategies
Specific intellectual skills
Intellectual skills
Verbal information
Intellectual Skills(sometimes)
Other attitudes
Verbal Information
Motor Skills
Part Skills (sometimes)
Procedural Skills (sometimes)


So Gagne and Briggs proceeded to define specific instructional events to satisfy the essential conditions of learning. This was the first time that kinds or types of instructional events were linked to specific learning outcomes.

The following table lists the 9 Instructional Events and provides definitions for each:

Instructional Event             Definition
1. Gaining attention
An initial task in any instruction is to gain the learner's attentiion so that other instructional events can occur properly.
2. Informing the learner of the objective
The puprose of communicating the objective to the learner is to enable the person to answer the question " Ho wiwll I know when I have learned?".
3. Stimulating the recall of prerequisite learnings
As a condition of learning, Essential capabilities must be available for recall before new learning can occur. Sometimes, the instructor's reminder might be enough - otherwise, formal review might be required.
4. Presenting the stimulus material
The range of stimulus materials is varied, as the range of instructional objectives vary. Stimulus material may be in the form of questioning, goal-based inquiry or motivation (Keller).
5. Providing learner guidance
The function of learning guidance is to help the learner acquire the particular capabilities specified in the objectives. For example, in teaching a concept, the learning guidance would ensure that the learner understood the critical attributes of the concept; in teachin gthe procedure to follow for diagnosing trouble in a piece of manufacturing equipment, for example, the learning guidance might be in the form of a checklist to teach teh steps to follow.
6. Eliciting the performance
Asking the learner to perform an overt action, like answering a question verbally or doing an act.
7. Providing feedback about performance correctness
This crucial instructional event should be informative and specific and friendly.
8. Assessing the performance
This event is to determine if the learner obtained the objective and can consistently perform what was intended.
9. Enhancing the retention and transfer
We cannot assume, as instructional designers, that learners will be able to transfer learning from one situation to another. For intellectual skills, providing spaced reviews helps. for verbal information, providing the linkages between information learned at different times is recommended.

The following table links everything in this section - the instructional events and the corresponding conditions of learning for each of the five types of learned capabilities are outlined here:

Type of Capability

Instructional Event
Intellecutal Skill
Cognitive Strategy
Motor Skill
1. Gaining attention
introduce stimulus change
introduce stimulus change
introduce stimulus change
introduce stimulus change
2. Informing learner of objective
Provide description and example of the performance to be expected
Clarify the general nature of the solution expected
Indicate the kind of verbal question to be answered
Provide example of the kind of action choice aimed for
Provide a demonstration of the performance to be expected
3. Stimulating recall of prerequisites
Stimulate reacll of subordinate concepts and rules
Stimulate recall of task strategies and associated intellectual skills
Stimulate recall of context of organized information
Stimulate reacll of relevant information, skills, and human model identification
Stimulate recall of executive subroutine and part skills
4. Presenting the stimulus material
Persent examples of the concept or rule
Present novel problems
Present information in propositional form
Present human model, demonstrating choice of personal action
Provide external stimuli for performance, including tools or implements
5. Provide learning guidance
Provide verbal cues to proper combining sequence
Provide prompts and hints to novel solution
Provide verbal links to a larger meaningful context
Provide for observatio of model's choice of actioin, and of reinforcement received by model
Provide practice with feedback of performance achievement
6. Eliciting the performance
Ask learner to apply rule or concept to new examples
Ask for problem solution
Ask for information in paraphrase, or in learner's own words
Ask for learner to indicate choices of action in real or simulated situations
As for execution of the performance
7. Providing feedback
Confirm correctness of rule or concept application
confirm originality of problem solution
Confirm correctnes of statement or information
Provide direct or vicarious reinforcement of action choice
Provide feedback on degree of accuracy and timing of performance
8. Assessing performance
Learner demonstrates application of concept or rule
Learner originates a novel solution
Learner restates information in paraphrased form
Learner makes desired choice of personal action in real or simulated situations
Learner executes performance of total skills
9. Enhancing retention and transfer
Provide spaced reviews includin ga variety of examples
Provide occasions for a variety of novel problem solutions
Provide verbal links to additional complexes of information
Provide additional varied situations for selected choice of action
Learner continues skill practice

This concludes the Gagne & Briggs conditions of learning, capability and instructional event summary. Consider what type of capability, what type of instructional event and what conditions of learning you want in your instructional design situatin (and model).

This summary is provided as a short, modified excerpt from:  
Reigelugh, C. (1983). Instructional Design Theories and Models. Lawrence Erlbaum & from
Gagne, R. M & Briggs, L. (1979). Principles of Instructional Design. Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

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