Not many can say they have changed the way humans learn, but Robert M. Gagné most certainly can!
His model, the Nine Levels of Learning, helps you and your learners to get the most out of your learning experiences. The model suggests that successful training programmes guide learners through nine distinct stages. By step nine, they will have achieved true mastery over the topic at hand.
In this article, we’ll explore Gagné’s model in detail and review how you can apply it when training your learners online.
Without further ado, let’s start by introducing the man behind the nine levels!
Who Was Robert Gagné?
Robert Gagné (1916 – 2002) was an American educational psychologist who helped to advance the science of instruction and learning. Gagné first laid the groundwork for what makes ‘good instruction’ when he worked with the American Air Corps during World War II.
He is best known for his book ‘The Conditions of Learning‘ (1965). It was in this book that he published his findings on the steps needed to promote effective learning. We still discuss these steps to this day.
Later on, Gagné applied his concepts of instructional theory to computer-based learning and investigated the role of multimedia content within training.
Gagné’s Nine Levels of Learning
Gagné’s Nine Levels of Learning model is also known as Gagné’s Nine Conditions of Learning, Gagné’s Taxonomy of Learning, and Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction. To keep things simple, we refer to the model as ‘Gagné’s Nine Levels of Learning’.
Gagné’s model revolutionised learning and development programmes and education as a whole. After his research, Gagné was able to break the learning process down into three distinct categories. He then broke these categories down further into nine levels of learning:
- Level 1: Gaining attention
- Level 2: Informing learners of the objective
- Level 3: Stimulating recall prior to learning
- Instruction and Practice
- Level 4: Presenting the stimulus
- Level 5: Providing learning guidance
- Level 6: Eliciting performance
- Level 7: Providing feedback
- Assessment and Transfer
- Level 8: Assessing performance
- Level 9: Enhancing preparation and transfer
Gagné’s model posits that learners move through nine stages when undergoing an instructional experience. The model also reveals how educators can support these steps to make the learning experience as impactful as possible.
These levels can happen across a classroom training session, a single eLearning unit or even a curriculum. The key lies in ensuring that all nine steps happen across the learning journey.
Gagné’s model provides a structured approach to instructional design. By breaking the learning process down into nine distinct levels, it offers you a clear framework for you to follow when creating your training programme.
Similarly, each level corresponds to a specific learning objective. This ensures you have clear and well-defined instructional goals that focus on performance improvements.
By structuring your training effectively, you can keep your learners engaged throughout the learning journey. After all, your learners will be following a structured pathway leading towards successful outcomes.
Each level also incorporates various instructional design elements and approaches that help you to cater to different learning styles and preferences.
In addition, Gagné’s model emphasises the importance of the practical application of new knowledge. By encouraging your learners to apply new information in realistic and relevant contexts, you can improve knowledge retention and performance.
Applying Gagné’s Nine Levels of Learning
Let’s explore Gagné’s nine levels separately to see how they could be facilitated through a modern learning platform, such as an LMS.
Level 1: Gaining Attention (Reception)
WOW! BAM! POW! Did that get your attention? While this might not be the best approach, gaining attention is the essence of the first level.
You need to start your training journey by ensuring your learners are with you from the get-go. As such, you need to gain their attention so that they understand learning will soon take place.
Implementing Level 1
Today’s modern learning solutions, like learning management systems (LMS) or learning apps, come with a wide variety of engagement tools. These tools will help you to generate motivation from onboarding through to programme completion.
For example, here are a few popular attention grabbers:
- Email or Push Notifications: You can create and send email or push notifications to drum up excitement for your upcoming training programme or as a daily countdown to your new learning content. Push notifications are sent to your users’ mobile devices, so they can receive them anywhere, anytime.
- Images: The human eye can process 36,000 visual messages every hour. Visuals can even improve learning by up to 400%. As such, garner interest by posting striking images on your learning platform’s social feed. These images could hint at what’s coming up next.
- Videos: Employees are 75% more likely to watch a video than they are to read the text. This is just one of the many reasons to begin your training with a video introduction.
Level 2: Informing Learners of the Objective (Expectancy)
The next thing you will want to do is inform your learners of what to expect from their training. What objectives will you cover? What should they know at the end of the experience that they didn’t before?
Similarly, you should let them know what you expect from them as learners. This will help them set expectations and formulate their learning journey.
Implementing Level 2
Answer the WIIFM (‘What’s in it for me’) question to describe what your learners will get out of the learning experience. You can do this by highlighting the benefits of your training programme, offering rewards and recognising performance.
You can use your online learning platform to communicate with your learners. For example, Growth Engineering LMS allows you to set up social Clubs where you can share your upcoming objectives with your learners.
This gives them a great chance to put forward any questions they have about the topic or your overall training programme. You can also use it as a place to share helpful tips!
Level 3: Stimulating Recall of Prior Learning (Retrieval)
The next level considers how to stimulate recall of previous instructional experiences to aid learning.
Relating the topic at hand back to a similar experience your learners have had helps you to build a bridge from the old to the new. This link gives your learners a foundation upon which to learn new content.
Implementing Level 3
During any given learning experience, you should seek to match new information with related topics your learners have already mastered. To do so, you will need to have a good understanding of your teams’ current skills and knowledge levels.
To make a connection between prior and current learning experiences, you can use the discovery method. This involves asking your learners to reflect on their previous experiences relating to your upcoming content.
This will help learners recall what they already know, whilst helping you to personalise your training from the very start.
Level 4: Presenting the Stimulus (Selective Perception)
You have gained your learner’s attention, informed them of the subject matter, and you have helped them relate to the subject. It’s now time to present your new content to your learners!
As such, this level focuses on presenting new information to your learners in an effective manner.
Implementing Level 4
Keep learners captivated by providing a variety of content formats. Similarly, make sure your content is engaging and interactive.
Here are some ideas of content you can share:
- Text-based content, including whitepapers, tip sheets, presentations or case studies
- Interactive learning games and game-based content
- Visual material, like infographics, videos or animations
- Interactive learning opportunities using webinars, scenarios or immersive technology
Use these different formats to create variety throughout your training materials. After all, some people prefer visual cues whereas others like verbal instruction or active learning experiences.
Level 5: Providing Learning Guidance (Semantic Encoding)
Now that you have delivered the content, you have to identify and fill in any knowledge and skills gaps that still prevail. After all, without retention, your learners are unlikely to remember information successfully regardless of the quality of your training materials.
The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve teaches us that we forget a whopping 90% of everything we learn within a week. To help your learners retain information, you need to fight against this!
Implementing Level 5
Ultimately, you need to help your team learn more effectively by enabling spaced repetition and a focus on relevancy.
As such, a great way to improve knowledge retention is by implementing scenario-based learning. This is an immersive approach where you put learners in a situation where they can make decisions and apply their knowledge in a safe environment.
Rather than implementing full-on scenarios, you can also initiate this by creating multiple-choice quizzes with scenario-based questions. Alternatively, how about providing case studies that showcase the benefits of applying your training?
Narrative-based learning is also a hugely popular way of ensuring that your content has staying power. In fact, if you weave a narrative into your learning, you’re x20 times more likely to retain the information.
Level 6: Eliciting Performance (Responding)
Do you remember at school when your teacher went around the class and asked questions based on your homework? Perhaps you were looking out the window, trying your hardest to avoid eye contact?
They were trying to ensure you could demonstrate your knowledge of what they taught you. In fact, eliciting performance is an essential part of any training programme.
Implementing Level 6
Applying the sixth level depends on what kind of content or skills your learners have been exploring. For instance, if your content teaches a new skill or process, you should ask your learners to demonstrate how to use it in real life. Role-playing exercises can help you to do this.
If your learners need to showcase their knowledge, you can create some quick-fire questions and embed them in your learning units. This way you’re testing your learners whilst they absorb your content.
You should use a variety of different question types.s For instance, multiple-choice questions, scenario-based questions, true or false or mix and match. Again, variety is the key!
Level 7: Providing Feedback (Reinforcement)
Once you have elicited performance, it’s essential that you communicate to your learners how well they did.
If they answered a quiz question incorrectly, your learners need to know how they can improve. On the other hand, if they passed with flying colours, they deserve to be rewarded and encouraged.
Implementing Level 7
Provide positive or negative feedback depending on your learners’ performance. In fact, you should give feedback after each quiz question.
However, make sure any constructive criticism points them in the right direction. Simply telling them they are wrong won’t help them to improve. You should provide access to useful resources that will help them to fill their knowledge gaps.
Similarly, you should collect these data points so that you can see where your learners are struggling. Following this, you can then refine your training programme as necessary.
Level 8: Assessing Performance (Retrieval)
The eighth level of Gagné’s model guides you to assess learner performance. Once you have informed your learners of their test results, it’s time to get analytical.
Your learners should be able to complete a test, or other forms of performance measurement, to show that they understand their training effectively.
Implementing Level 8
You have various options when it comes to measuring learner performance on your digital learning tool. For instance, you could use in-unit quizzes, tests, short questionnaires, essays or presentations.
However, these tools make it easier to assess improvement in knowledge rather than performance. If you are trying to gauge if your learners can perform a specific task better, you could try using role-play or scenario-based exercises.
In addition, pay attention to any social learning or gamification features you use on your platform. For example, learners can learn Experience Points (XP) after completing units and answering quiz questions correctly. These points then influence their position on the platform Leaderboard.
After analysing performance, you can sieve out any knowledge gaps and focus on what you need to teach next.
Level 9: Enhancing Retention and Transfer (Generalisation)
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the last stage! Gagné proposed that the final step in the learning journey is to put the learner in the position of an expert, by ensuring they can effectively transfer their new knowledge.
As the ‘Protege effect’ tells us, one of the best ways to learn is to teach.
If your learners can demonstrate that they have absorbed the content by applying it to their job and by teaching others, then they can finally call themselves wisdom warriors! This is what we refer to as behaviour change.
Implementing Level 9
As the previously mentioned Forgetting Curve suggests, learners are more likely to retain information and use it effectively with repeated practice.
As such, make sure your learners have enough opportunities to explore training and apply new knowledge on a regular basis. In fact, you will want to create a continuous learning culture that is easily accessible.
One way to enable this is by implementing mobile learning. By being able to access learning on their mobiles, your learners can explore training content anywhere and at any time.
Gagné’s Nine Levels of Learning helped the L&D industry to recognise that learning does not have to be an all-in-one experience. Drip feeding information is much more impactful than a whole flood pouring down on your learners at once.
As a result, Gagné’s model has been used as a successful template for training since its conception, and it continues to influence the industry.
By marrying it with modern learning technology solutions, you can create a structured training programme that changes behaviour and impacts learner performance.
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