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Robert M. Gagné

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Robert Mills Gagné
Born(1916-08-21)August 21, 1916
DiedApril 28, 2002(2002-04-28) (aged 85)
Alma mater
Known forConditions of Learning
Scientific career
FieldsPsychology, educational psychology

Robert Mills Gagné (August 21, 1916 – April 28, 2002) was an American educational psychologist best known for his Conditions of Learning. He instructed during World War II when he worked with the Army Air Corps training pilots. He went on to develop a series of studies and works that simplified and explained what he and others believed to be good instruction. Gagné was also involved in applying concepts of instructional theory to the design of computer-based training and multimedia-based learning.[citation needed]

His work is sometimes summarized as the Gagné assumption: that different types of learning exist, and that different instructional conditions are most likely to bring about these different types of learning.


Early life and education[edit]

Robert Mills Gagné was born on August 21, 1916, in North Andover, Massachusetts. In high school, he decided to study psychology and be a psychologist after reading psychological texts. In his valedictory speech of 1932, Gagné professed that the science of psychology should be used to relieve the burdens of human life.[1]

Gagné received a scholarship to Yale University, where he earned his A.B. in 1937. He then went on to receive his Sc.M. and Ph.D. at Brown University where he studied the conditioned operate response of white rats as part of his thesis.[2]


His first college teaching job was in 1940, at Connecticut College for Women.

His initial studies of people were interrupted by World War II. In the first year of war, at Psychological Research Unit No. 1, Maxwell Field, Alabama, he administered and scored aptitude tests to choose and sort aviation cadets. Thereafter, he was assigned to officer school in Miami Beach. He was commissioned a second lieutenant, and assigned to School of Aviation Medicine, Randolph Field, Fort Worth, Texas.

After the war, he held a temporary faculty position at Pennsylvania State University. He returned to Connecticut College for Women. In 1949, he accepted an offer to join the US Air Force organization that became the Air Force Personnel and Training Research Center, where he was research director of the Perceptual and Motor Skills Laboratory. In 1958, he returned to academia as professor at Princeton University, where his research shifted focus to the learning of problem solving and the learning of mathematics. In 1962, he joined the American Institutes for Research, where he wrote his first book, Conditions of Learning. He spent additional time in academia at the University of California, Berkeley, where he worked with graduate students. With W. K. Roher, he presented a paper, "Instructional Psychology", to the Annual Review of Psychology.

In 1969, he found a lasting home at “Florida State University”. He collaborated with L. J. Briggs on Principles of Learning. He published the second and third editions of The Conditions of Learning.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Gagné's wife, Pat, was a biologist. They had a son, Sam, and daughter, Ellen. His non-professional pursuits included constructing wood furniture and reading modern fiction. In 1993, he retired to Signal Mountain, Tennessee, with his wife. Dr. Gagné was known to base his foundations on behaviorism.

Learning process[edit]

Gagné's theory stipulates that there are several types and levels of learning, and each of these types and levels requires instruction that is tailored to meet the needs of the pupil. The focus of Gagné's theory is on the retention and honing of intellectual skills.[4] The theory has been applied to the design of instruction in all fields, though in its original formulation special attention was given to military training settings.[5]

Eight ways to learn[edit]

In 1956, Gagné devised a system of analyzing different conditions of learning from simple to complex. According to Gagné, higher orders of learning are built upon the lower levels, requiring a greater amount of previous knowledge to progress successfully; final capability is analysed as comprising subordinate skills in an order such that the lower levels can be predicted for positive transfer of higher level learning.[6] The lower four orders focus on the behavioral aspects of learning, while the higher four focus on the cognitive aspects.[7] In his original study on instruction, Gagné attributed individual differences in learning.[6]

Steps of planning instruction[edit]

  1. Identify the types of learning outcomes: Each outcome may have prerequisite knowledge or skills that must be identified.
  2. Identify the internal conditions or processes the learner must have to achieve the outcomes.
  3. Identify the external conditions or instruction needed to achieve the outcomes.
  4. Specify the learning context.
  5. Record the characteristics of the learners.
  6. Select the media for instruction.
  7. Plan to motivate the learners.
  8. Test the instruction with learners in the form of formative evaluation.
  9. After the instruction has been used, summative evaluation is used to judge the effectiveness of the instruction.

Nine Events of Instruction[edit]

  1. Gain attention: Present stimulus to ensure reception of instruction.
  2. Tell the learners the learning objective: What will the pupil gain from the instruction?
  3. Stimulate recall of prior learning: Ask for recall of existing relevant knowledge.
  4. Present the stimulus: Display the content.
  5. Provide learning guidance
  6. Elicit performance: Learners respond to demonstrate knowledge.
  7. Provide feedback: Give informative feedback on the learner's performance.
  8. Assess performance: More performance and more feedback, to reinforce information.
  9. Enhance retention and transfer to other contexts

Evaluation of instruction[edit]

  1. Have the objectives been met?
  2. Is the new program better than the previous one?
  3. What additional effects does the new program include?

When objectively analyzing the conditions for learning Gagné says, "Since the purpose of instruction is learning, the central focus for rational derivation of instructional techniques is the human learner. Development of rationally sound instructional procedures must take into account learner characteristics such as initiate capacities, experimental maturity, and current knowledge states. Such factors become parameters of the design of any particular program of instruction."[8]


  • Membership in Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, and the National Academy of Education
  • Eminent Lectureship Award by the Society of Engineering Education
  • Phi Delta Kappa Award for Distingued Educational Research
  • E. L. Thorndike Award in Educational Psychology
  • John Smyth Memorial Award from the Victorian Institute of Educational Research
  • The Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professorship, Florida State University'c highest award
  • American Psychological Association Scientific Award for Applications of Psychology
  • Educational Technology Person of the Year Award
  • AECT Outstanding Educator and Researcher Award [9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tallahassee Democrat, April 29, 2003 [1]
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Norbert M. Seel. [Place of publication not identified]: Springer. 2012. p. 1335. ISBN 978-1-4419-1428-6. OCLC 772862112.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  3. ^ Richey, Rita C. The Legacy of Robert M. Gagné. 2000. 283-291.
  4. ^ Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction https://educationlibrary.org/gagnes-nine-events-of-instruction
  5. ^ Instructional Design, Conditions of Learning (Robert Gagné) http://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/conditions-learning.html
  6. ^ a b Gagne, Robert (1971). Learning hierarchies. NJ: Prentice Hall. pp. 63–84.
  7. ^ "RGU Homepage".
  8. ^ Gagné, The Idea of Schema 1987 p. 5
  9. ^ Richey, Rita C. Introduction. The Legacy of Robert M. Gagné. By Richey. 2000. 4-6.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Educational offices
Preceded by President of the American Educational Research Association
Succeeded by