Robert Gagne describes conditions of learning as a means through which individuals and groups acquire relevant skills to be accepted in society. Learning is a direct result of human behaviour which are influenced by the environment and the individual thinking process of learners.
The foundations of Gagne’s Condition of learning lies in the theories of behaviourism. He also mentioned that learning a specific skill depends on previous learning skills in a logical and sequential manner that contributes to building a learning experience.
It is important to group learning goals according to their learning outcomes. Learning outcomes are dependent on planning what is meant to be learnt and what is required at the end of the learning session. Gagne proposed a series of critical conditions of learning which he then regarded as important in the learning of different outcomes. These outcomes are distinct in terms of internal organisation in long term memory and required mental processing:
- Verbal information includes declarative knowledge that is stored in distributed forms. It should be related to previous information that draws attention to other features by including variations in speech or print, provides meaningful content for effective encoding and cues for effective recall and generalisation.
- Intellectual skills include procedural knowledge such as steps of a process or hierarchies with higher and lower order skills. There is a need for prior knowledge here, it calls attention to distinctive features and stimulates the recall of previously learned components' skills.
- Cognitive strategies are skills that influence the skills and activation of other systems by breaking the problem into parts. It uses less prior knowledge and more practical examples and experiences backed by the feedback on the strategy or outcome.
- Motor skills deal with skills where error-less performance is expected. It encourages mental practice. Prior learning of the process and practice enhances the overall process.
- Attitudes are mental states that influence an individual’s actions and requires a human to observe and learn from who also provides feedback.
Apart from these special conditions of learning, there are nine levels of instruction that are used as a starting point for all types of learning and instructional design. These points help educators and trainers to maintain a checklist for all their teaching or training activities. Each step highlights a form of communication and when one step is completed, learners tend to retain and apply the skills taught in a better and effective way.
These nine levels are;
Level 1: Gaining Attention (Reception)
Start the learning process by gaining the attention of your audience. It starts the learning process when the learner is being receptive to the information received. This may be achieved by calling names of learners during discussion to completely focus attention on learners.
Level 2: Informing learners of the objective (Expectancy)
Next, learners must know what they are about to learn and why. At the start of the lecture they should be aware of what they will have learnt by the end of the session, its benefit to them and the organisation.
For instance, explaining to learners why they will learn what they will learn and how to apply the concept to your practice. This makes them more receptive to learning.
Level 3: Stimulating recall of prior learning (Retrieval)
Matching the concept with what learners have learned previously. Prior experiences can be used to solve new problems and resolve matters easily. This may also take the form of a simple Q/A session to establish a link between specific material knowledge.
Level 4: Presenting the stimulus (Selective Perception)
Presenting new information in an effective manner using more examples, use of timelines, diagrams, concept maps and student discussions.Try using different media and styles such as visual cues and verbal instructions to suit people with different learning styles.
Level 5: Providing learning guidance (Semantic Encoding)
Helping your team learn and retain most of the information by providing alternative approaches to illustrate the information you are trying to convey to the learner. Examples include; case studies and graphics. Giving time for discussion and answering queries with relevant additional materials.
Level 6: Eliciting performance (Responding)
Now is the time to see if learners can demonstrate their knowledge with what was taught to them. Give them a brief test after each task/ unit to see if they can apply it to their learning before moving forward.
Level 7: Providing feedback (Reinforcement)
After clear demonstration of knowledge from learners’ end it's time to give feedback to them and guide them on the points they missed. Your feedback and tips will help them improve. Discuss their results, be professional with comments and give them guidelines to work on. This is a healthy exercise if conducted properly.
Level 8: Assessing performance (Retrieval)
When learners have had a good opportunity to practice and refine their learning it is time to assess their learning with a test at the end of the course or any other measurement tool such as a case study or seminar to show learners have learned the material or skill effectively. This test shall be completed without any assistance or coaching.
Level 9: Enhancing retention and transfer (Generalisation)
At this stage learners show transfer of knowledge through application of skills and knowledge. They should then be provided with real-life examples to apply the acquired knowledge.
Gagne’s conditions of learning has its own pros and cons. People who have learning issues may respond better to this regime that is clearly very systematic where learners are provided with resources and a blueprint for learning. It can also be adjusted to suit their needs. However, it also requires a great deal of assistance overall where critical thinking and instructions can’t be avoided. This practice may restrict learners’ imagination and exploration instinct. But overall, these 9 steps are nine events of instruction, systematically designed as foundation blocks of learning in modern classrooms.