Robert M. Gagné

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Robert Mills Gagné (August 21, 1916 – April 28, 2002) was an American educational psychologist best known for his "Conditions of Learning". Gagné pioneered the science of instruction 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].

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


In high school at North Andover, Massachusetts, he decided to study psychology and perhaps be a psychologist after reading psychological texts. In his valedictory speech of 1932, he said the science of psychology should be used to relieve the burdens of human life.[1] He had a scholarship to Yale University, and received A.B. in 1937. In graduate work at Brown University, he studied "conditioned operate response" of white rats under various conditions as a part of his Ph. D. thesis. His first college teaching job in 1940, at Connecticut College for Women. His initial studies of people rather than rats 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 Florida 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, "The 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." [2]

Personal life[edit]

Gagné's widow, Pat, is a biologist. They have a son, Sam, and daughter, Ellen. Non-professional pursuits included constructing wood furniture and reading modern fiction. In 1993, he retired to Signal Mountain, Tennessee with his wife.

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. While Gagne's learning blueprint can cover all aspects of learning, the focus of the theory is on the retention and honing of intellectual skills. 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.[3]

Five categories of learning[edit]

  1. Intellectual skills: Create individual competence and ability to respond to stimuli.
  2. Cognitive strategies: Capability to learn, think, and remember
  3. Verbal information: Rote memorization of names, faces, dates, phone numbers, etc.
  4. Motor skills: Capability to learn to drive, ride a bike, draw a straight line, etc.
  5. Attitudes: Ingrained bias towards different ideas, people, situation, and may affect how one acts towards these things.

Each category requires different methods in order for the particular skill set to be learned.[4]

Eight ways to learn[edit]

In 1956, based on the degree of complexity of the mental process, the American educational psychologist Robert M. Gagné suggested a system of analyzing different conditions or levels of learning from simple to complex. According to Gagne the higher order of learning in the hierarchy is built upon the lower levels, requiring greater amount of previous knowledge for progressing successfully. To analyze final capability into subordinate skills in an order such that the lower- levels can be predicted for positive transfer of higher level learning.[5] The lower four orders focus on the behavioral aspects of learning whilst the higher four focus on the cognitive aspects.[6] In his original study on Instruction, through a study derived from an analysis of learning of a task of constructing formulas for the sums of number series. Gagne attributed Individual differences or differences in intelligence in learning.[5]

  1. Signal Learning: A general response to a signal. Like a dog responding to a command.
  2. Stimulus-Response Learning: A precise response to a distinct stimulus.
  3. Chaining: A chain of two or more stimulus-response connections is acquired.
  4. Verbal Association: The learning of chains that are verbal.
  5. Discrimination Learning: The ability to make different responses to similar-appearing stimuli.
  6. Concept Learning: A common response to a class of stimuli.
  7. Rule Learning. Learning a chain of two or more concepts.
  8. Problem Solving. A kind of learning that requires higher order of thinking.

Signal learning: Is the same as the Classical conditioning of behavioral Psychologist Pavlov. Classical conditioning is a learning process that occurs through associations between an environmental stimulus and a naturally occurring stimulus.[7]

Stimulus-Response Learning: (also known as Trial and error) is a fundamental method of solving problems.It is characterized by repeated, varied attempts which are continued until success,or until the agent stops trying. Here there is strong bond between S-R theory taking place.[8]

Chaining: Chaining is a procedure used in behavioral psychology, it involves reinforcing individual responses occurring in a sequence to form a complex behavior. It is a process of connecting a set of individual stimulus response in sequential order.[9] There are two different types of chains: homogeneous and heterogeneous. The prior homogeneous chains occur when the form of response is similar in each element. By contrast, a heterogeneous chain requires different types of responses for each link.[10]

Verbal Association Learning: is connected to Chain learning by using words. Here the learner is able to verbalize the acquired knowledge and intellectual skills in a highly organized manner."Learning Hierarchy",.[11] In another interpretation It is a form of associate learning called "paired association" such as learning the meanings of a word by splitting the word.[8]

Discrimination Learning: is the ability to distinguish or discriminate one chain from another. In this the learner can distinguish one stimulus from another and respond as per the change in stimulus.[8] The process is made more difficult by the act of interference, whereby one piece of learning affects or inhibits the other.[12]

Concept Learning: is the learning of a generalized idea. In this the subject acquires the ability to understand the common but variable properties of a concept. "Concept" stands for generalized idea of a group of stimuli.[8] In concept learning, the change in behavior as a result of learning is not controlled by a particular stimulus but by the abstract idea of each stimulus.[12]

Rule Learning: Chaining of two or more concepts is involved in learning a Rule. This requires higher level cognition process. It involves building relationship among two or more concepts before learning higher order rule that is enveloping them.[12]

Problem solving: Problem solving is the highest level cognitive process, it is formulating of new and complex rules and procedure for the purpose of solving the problem. Problem solving leads to permanent change in the learner’s capabilities where in the learner has learned something more than learning of parts.[12]

Designing instruction[edit]

Skills are to be learned at the lowest level and mastered before proceeding. An instructor should use positive reinforcement and repetition, with each new skill building upon previously acquired skills.

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 steps 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?

The purpose is to supply data on feasibility and efficiency to develop and improve the course.

Evaluation is concerned with the effectiveness of the course or program regarding the student’s performance. Based on the student's performance, measures are taken of the kind of student capabilities the program is intended to establish.

When objectively analyzing the condition 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” [13]


  • 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 [14]


  1. ^ Tallahassee Democrat, April 29, 2003
  2. ^ Richey, Rita C. The Legacy of Robert M. Gagné. 2000. 283-291.
  3. ^ Instructional Design, Conditions of Learning (Robert Gagné)
  4. ^ University of Iceland, Robert Gagné
  5. ^ a b Gagne, Robert (1971). Learning hierarchies. NJ: Prentice Hall. pp. 63–84. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Cherry, Kendra. "Classical Conditioning How It Works and a Few Examples of It In Action". 
  8. ^ a b c d "Fundamentals of educational philosophy": P.B. Kavya Kishore, Pg.208
  9. ^ Kishore, P.B. Kavya (2011). Fundamentals Of Educational Psychology : Learning And Instruction. Delhi: Anmol Publisher. p. 208. ISBN 978-8126149698. 
  10. ^ ref name="Pierce and Cheney" W. David Pierce and Carl D. Cheney, Behavior Analysis and Learning, Fourth Edition, Psychology Press, 2008.
  11. ^, PG.9
  12. ^ a b c d
  13. ^ Gagné, The Idea of Schema 1987 p. 5
  14. ^ Richey, Rita C. Introduction. The Legacy of Robert M. Gagné. By Richey. 2000. 4-6.

Further reading[edit]

  • Richey, Rita C. (2000) The legacy of Robert M. Gagné [1].

External links[edit]

Educational offices
Preceded by
Roald Campbell
President of the American Educational Research Association
Succeeded by
Robert Glaser