Conditions of Learning (R. Gagne)


This theory stipulates that there are several different types or levels of learning. The significance of these classifications is that each different type requires different types of instruction. Gagne identifies five major categories of learning: verbal information, intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, motor skills and attitudes. Different internal and external conditions are necessary for each type of learning. For example, for cognitive strategies to be learned, there must be a chance to practic e developing new solutions to problems; to learn attitudes, the learner must be exposed to a credible role model or persuasive arguments.

Gagne suggests that learning tasks for intellectual skills can be organized in a hierarchy according to complexity: stimulus recognition, response generation, procedure following, use of terminology, discriminations, concept formation, rule application, a nd probl em solving. The primary significance of the hierarchy is to identify prerequisites that should be completed to facilitate learning at each level. Prerequisites are identified by doing a task analysis of a learning/training task. Learning hierarchi es provide a basis for the sequencing of instruction.

In addition, the theory outlines nine instructional events and corresponding cognitive processes:

(1) gaining attention (reception)

(2) informing learners of the objective (expectency)

(3) stimulating recall of prior learning (retrieval)

(4) presenting the stimulus (selective perception)

(5) providing learning guidance (semantic encoding)

(6) eliciting performance (responding)

(7) providing feedback (reinforcement)

(8) assessing performance (retrieval)

(9) enhancing retention and transfer (generalization).

These events should satisfy or provide the necessary conditions for learning and serve as the basis for designing instruction and selecting appropriate media (Gagne, Briggs & Wager, 1992).


While Gagne's theoretical framework covers all aspects of learning, the focus of the theory is on intellectual skills. The theory has been applied to the design of instruction in all domains (Gagner & Driscoll, 1988). In its original formulation (Gagne, 1 962), special attention was given to

military training

settings. Gagne (1987) addresses the role of instructional technology in learning.


The following example illustrates a teaching sequence corresponding to the nine instructional events for the objective, Recognize an equilateral triangle:

1. Gain attention - show variety of computer generated triangles

2. Identify objective - pose q uestion: "What is an equilateral triangle?"

3. Recall prior learning - review definitions of triangles

4. Present stimulus - give definition of equilateral triangle

5. Guide learning- show example of how to create equilateral

6. Elicit per formance - ask students to create 5 different examples

7. Provide feedback - check all examples as correct/incorrect

8. Assess performance- provide scores and remediation

9. Enhance retention/transfer - show pictures of objects and ask student s to identify equilaterals

Gagne (1985, chapter 12) provides examples of events for each category of learning outcomes.


1. Different instruction is required for different learning outcomes.

2. Events of learning operate on the learner in ways that constitute the conditions of learning.

3. The specific operations that constitute instructional events are different for each different type of learning outcome.

4. Learning hierarchies define what intellectual skills are to b e learned and a sequence of instruction.


Gagne, R. (1962). Military training and principles of learning. American Psychologist, 17, 263-276.

Gagne, R. (1985). The Conditions of Learning (4th ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston .

Gagne, R. (1987). Instructional Technology Foundations. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc.

Gagne, R. & Driscoll, M. (1988). Essentials of Learning for Instruction (2nd Ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Gagne, R., Briggs, L. & Wa ger, W. (1992). Principles of Instructional Design (4th Ed.). Fort Worth, TX: HBJ College Publishers.