What Are Gagne’s Nine Levels of Learning & Why Are They So Important?

Not many can say they’ve changed the way we learn, but Robert M. Gagne most certainly can. His ‘Nine Levels of Learning’ revolutionised learning and development programmes and education as a whole.

Gagne was able to break down the learning process into three separate categories: 

  • Preparation 
  • Learning
  • Practice and assessment and transfer

He was then able to break these down further into even more focused sections, which we’ll learn more about later. By doing so, Gagne was able to form a framework for the training journey that is still used today. 

Who Was Robert Gagne?

Robert Gagne (1916 – 2002) was an American educational psychologist who pioneered the science of instruction and learning. Gagne first laid the groundwork for what makes ‘good instruction’ when he applied his work alongside the American Air Corps in World War II. 

He is probably most famous for his book ‘The Conditions of Learning.’ It was here that he published his findings on the steps needed to promote effective learning. 

In later years, Gagne applied his concepts of instructional theory to computer-based learning as well as investigating training with a variety of multimedia formats. Suffice to say, if he was a superhero he’d be called something along the lines of Learn Man or The Educator!

Gagne’s Nine Levels of Learning

‘The Nine Levels of Learning’ proposes that learners experience nine steps when being taught something. It also suggests how you, as the trainer/educator, can support these steps to ensure the learning is at its most impactful.

The model gives the trainer a structure to work through that will keep the learner engaged, and help them retain the content. 

These levels can happen across a classroom training session, a single eLearning unit or even a curriculum. The key point is that across a learning journey, these nine steps all need to happen.

The nine levels are split into three categories, which are then broken down even further. 

1. Preparation

  • Gaining attention
  • Informing learners of the objective
  • Stimulating recall prior to learning

2. Instruction and Practice

  • Presenting the stimulus
  • Providing learning guidance
  • Eliciting performance
  • Providing feedback

3. Assessment and Transfer

  • Assessing Performance
  • Enhancing Preparation and Transfer.

Here are Gagne’s nine levels of learning coupled with how you can initiate them using a modern learning platform:

1. Gaining Attention (Reception)

WOW! BAM! POW! Did that get your attention? Okay, maybe not. But this is the point of stage one. You need to ensure the learner is with you from the offset.

You could do this by posing stimulating questions to your students or by beginning your lesson with an element of surprise. How about dressing up as a giant panda?

How to Implement: The very best learning solutions have the perfect engagement tools that will generate motivation from onboarding through to programme completion. Here are a few certified attention grabbers:

  • Push Notifications: You can create push notifications to drum up excitement for your upcoming training, or as a daily countdown to your new learning content. They can be set-up to be received on mobile, so your learners can receive them anywhere, anytime.
  • Images: The human eye can process 36,000 visual messages every hour. Visuals also increase retention by 29-42%. Garner enthusiasm by posting striking images on the social feed to hint at what’s coming up… 
  • Videos: Employees are 75% more likely to watch a video than they are to read the text. Just one of the many reasons to begin your training with a video introduction.

2. Inform Learners of the Objectives (Expectancy)

The next thing you’ll want to do is inform the learners of what to expect from the training. What objectives will you cover? What should they know at the end of the training that they didn’t before?

Let them know what you expect from them as well. This will help them formulate their learning journey. 

How to Implement: With Growth Engineering LMS, you can set up a social club to share your upcoming objectives with your learners. This gives them a great chance to put forward any questions they may have about the topic. You can also use it as a place to share helpful tips!

3. Stimulate Recall of Prior Learning (Retrieval)

Relating the subject back to a similar experience your learners have had builds a bridge from the old to the new. This link gives the learners a foundation upon which to learn the new content. 

How to Implement: You can use the discovery method. Ask your learners for their previous experiences relating to your upcoming content. This will help them recall what they already know, whilst helping personalise and apply the training at the very start.

4. Present the Stimulus

You’ve gained your learner’s attention, you’ve informed them of the subject matter and you’ve helped them relate to the subject…it’s time to present your new content to the learners!

How to Implement: Keep learners captivated by mixing up the content formats. Growth Engineering LMS and Growth Engineering Learning App can house a variety of different mediums. Here are some ideas of content you can share:

5. Provide Learning Guidance

Now you’ve taught the content, you’ve got to find a way to fill any knowledge gaps. The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve teaches us that we forget 90% of what we learn within 30 days, so echoing the content is crucial in fighting this.

How to Implement: A great way to help your team retain the information is by acting out scenarios. Scenario-based learning is where you put the learner in a situation where they can apply their knowledge to overcome a hurdle.

You can initiate this by creating a multiple-choice quiz with scenario-based questions. Alternatively, how about providing case studies of the content in action? 

Narrative-based learning is a hugely popular way of ensuring your content is sticking. In fact, if you weave a narrative into your learning, you’re x20 times more likely to withhold the information. 

6. Elicit Performance

Do you remember at school when your teacher went around the class and asked questions based on what they had just said as you were looking out the window? This is what they were doing. Your learners need to demonstrate they know the knowledge. 

How to Implement: You can create some quick-fire quiz questions embedded in a unit. This way, the learner stays interested whilst absorbing content. Quizzes can be created using multiple-choice questions, scenario-based questions, true or false or mix and match questions. 

7. Provide Feedback

Once you’ve elicited performance, it’s important you communicate to your learners how well they performed. If they answered incorrectly then they need to know how they can improve, on the other hand, if they passed with flying colours they deserve to be rewarded and encouraged!

How to Implement: You can provide positive and negative feedback depending on the answers. For example, if the learners gets the answer wrong, you can give constructive criticism directing them in the right direction. If they get it right, then you can give them a big thumbs up! 

8. Assess Performance

You’ve informed your learners of their test results, now it’s time to talk about retention as a formal way of ensuring retention. 

How to Implement: Scenario-based quizzes are are a fantastic way to check if your learners have retained the information. Dependent on the answers, you can sieve out any knowledge gaps and build on what to teach next.

9. Enhancing Retention and Transfer

Congratulations; you’ve made it to the last stage! Gagne proposed that the final step to the learning journey is to put the learner in the position of an expert.

If the learner can demonstrate they’ve absorbed the content by applying it to their job and by teaching others, then they can finally call themselves a wisdom warrior! This is what we refer to as behaviour change

How to Implement: Battles are a great way to enhance retention. They encourage healthy competition with leaderboards, virtual badges and experience points. The quick-fire nature of Battles also means they go hand in hand with mobile learning. 

Final Words

Gagne taught us that learning doesn’t have to be an all-in-one experience. A few drops of info are much more impactful than a whole flood pouring down on you at once. His Nine Levels of Learning model has been used as a successful template for training all over the world since its conception.

By marrying it up with our modern learning solutions, you can keep tabs on, analyse, and act on the learning experience until behaviour changes in employees have been implemented. 

Want to know more about behaviour change? Download our guide, ‘The Science of Behaviour Change.’

Welcome To Our Blog!

Catch all the latest learning and development tips, research and analysis here. Subscribe to make sure you don’t miss a beat!

Don't forget to share this post!

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Catch all the latest learning and development tips, research and analysis here. Subscribe to make sure you don’t miss a beat!


Unlock The World’s Most Impactful L&D Resources!

Our unrivalled treasure trove of white papers, research, tip sheets, infographics and more gives you all the L&D knowledge you need to start making an impact today. Happy exploring!

We are always working to improve your experience on our website. Part of this involves using cookies to collect data for statistics and personalization. Further information can be found in our Privacy Policy and Cookies Policy.