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The Legacy of Robert M. Gagné
By Rita C. Richey, Ed.

Table of Contents

Walter Wager and Marcy Perkins Driscoll
Authors’ Biographical Sketches
Section I - The Ideas
1. Contributions of Learning to Human Development
Robert M. Gagné
Models of Human Behavioral Development
The Cumulative Learning Model
Examples of Cumulative Learning
A Cumulative Learning Sequence in Conservation
Generalization and Transfer

2. Learning Hierarchies
Robert M. Gagné
Characteristics of Learning Hierarchies
Intellectual Skills
Evidence Relevant to Learning Hierarchies
Concluding Statement
3. Domains of Learning
Robert M. Gagné
The Need for Domains of the Learning Process
Learning Domains
Generalizability and the Domains of Learning
Age and Learning
4. Mastery Learning and Instructional Design
Robert M. Gagné
Mastery Learning
What About Instructional Systems Design?
Instructional Design
Instructional Tactics and Their Sources
Information Processing for Learning
The Events of Instruction
How These Events Relate to Mastery Learning
Differences in the Two Systems
Taxonomic Differences
Different Learning Conditions for Different Outcomes
A Noteworthy Area of Agreement
5. Integrative Goals for Instructional Design
Robert M. Gagné and M. David Merrill
Integrating Multiple Objectives
Categories of Integrative Goals
Integrative Goals and Single Objective Categories
The Enterprise Scenario in Learning Transfer
Section II - The Impact
6. The Impact of R.M. Gagné’s Work on Instructional Theory
Patricia L. Smith and Tilman J. Ragan
Status of Instructional Theory Before Gagné
    Applied Learning Theory
    Curriculum Theory
Precursors to Instructional Theories
Instructional Theory Contributions
    Development of Types of Learning
    Development of the Learning Hierarchy Concept
    Development of the Events of Instruction
The Relationship of Gagné’s Work to Learning Theory
The Influence of Gagné’s Theory on Instructional Design Models
The Influence of Gagné’s Theory on Curriculum Design
7. The Impact of Gagné’s Theory on Instructional Design Practice
Dennis C. Fields
The Relationship Between Theory and Practice
The Impact of Gagné’s Theories on Curriculum Development
    School Program Design
    School Lesson Design
    Training Curriculum Design
    Private Sector
Impact of Gagné’s Instructional Design Theories on  Instructional Design  Practice
Gagné’s Influence on the Transfer of Learning
Summary and Conclusions
8. Gagné’s Influence on Military Training Research and Development
J. Michael Spector
A Review of Gagné’s Military Research and Development
    Research at Military Research Laboratories
    Guided Approach to Instructional Design Advising (GAIDA)
    Training Research Journal
Illustrative Encapsulations
    Individual Differences
    Learner Engagement Story
9. Gagné and the New Technologies of Instruction
Wayne A. Nelson
Technology, Instructional Technology, and the New
Technologies of Instruction
Knowledge Sources
Current Practice
    Design Models: The Design of Computer-Based Instruction
    Design Tools: The Automation of Instructional Design and
    Intelligent Tutoring Systems
Section III - The Future
10. The Future Role of Robert M. Gagné in Instructional Design
Rita C. Richey
The Continuing Domination of Gagné Doctrines in
Design Theory
    The Emerging Tension Between Learner-Centered and Content-Oriented Instruction
    The Emerging Role of Context in Instructional Design Theory
    The Stability of the Gagné Orientation to Theory
The Continuing Domination of Gagné Doctrines in Design Practice
    The Continuing Dominance of Outcomes-Based Design
    The Continuing Dominance of Pre-Design Analysis
    The Continuing Dominance of the Events of Instruction
    The Stability of the Gagné Orientation to Practice
(The following text is an excerpt from
The Legacy of Robert M. Gagne, Chapter 6.)

Chapter 6
The Impact of R.M. Gagné’s Work on Instructional Theory
Patricia L. Smith and Tillman J. Ragan
University of Oklahoma

 Although it is not unusual for R.M. Gagné’s work to be considered in a volume addressing learning theories, his contributions can most appropriately be considered as an “instructional theory.”  An instructional theory is an integrated set of principles, based upon learning theory, other relevant theories, and sound replicable research, that permits one to predict the effects of specific instructional conditions on a learner’s cognitive processing and the resulting learned capabilities. Gagné (1985) described the nature of an instructional theory as an “attempt to relate the external Events of Instruction to the outcomes of learning by showing how these events lead to appropriate support or enhancement of internal learning processes. . . The province of an instructional theory is to propose a rationally-based relationship between instructional events, their effects on learning processes, and the learning outcomes that are produced as a result of these processes” (p. 244). How does instructional theory relate to learning theory, instructional psychology, and instructional design models? In contrast to instructional theories that tend to be predictive and prescriptive, learning theories are typically descriptive and explanatory. According to Driscoll (1994) a learning theory is “a set of constructs linking observed changes in performance with what is thought to bring about those changes” (p. 9). Instructional psychology is the study of the facilitation of human learning through instruction and can result in instructional design theories and models. Instructional design models employ instructional theories to prescribe types and levels of instructional support to optimize the achievement of identified learning goals.

Snow and Swanson (1992) suggested that the components of an instructional theory are: “a) description of desired end states or goals of instruction in a domain; b) description of goal-relevant initial states of learners prior to instruction; c) explication of the transition processes from initial to desired states; d) specification of instructional conditions that promote this transition; e) assessment of performance and instructional effects” (p. 584). If we compare Gagné’s instructional theory to this description, we find that Gagné’s theory does have these components. For example, Gagné describes potential end goal states in his categorization of learning capabilities. These goal states are generic in that they can apply across a variety of content areas. For each of the goal types Gagné described goal-relevant initial states, prerequisite relationship of intellectual skills and relationships of other types of learning. Gagné interpreted information processing theory to explicate the transition processes from initial to goal states for each type of learning. Gagné’s greatest impact on instructional theory may be his thoroughness in specifying instructional conditions to support this transition process. He described these instructional conditions both as generalized events of instruction and as specific conditions of learning for each type of learning capability (Conditions of Learning, 1965, 1970, 1977, 1985).  Finally, Gagné and his colleagues extended his thorough explication of learning outcomes into recommendations for assessment within each category (Gagné & Beard, 1978; Gagné, Briggs, & Wager, 1992).

Although Gagné was the first theorist to bring these elements together into an instructional theory, as with all learning/instructional theorists, his work was strongly influenced by theorists who preceded him. Consequently, to gain an adequate perspective of Gagné’s influence on instructional theory, we must first survey the status of instructional theory prior to Gagné’s influence.

Status of Instructional Theory Before Gagné

The need for instructional theory has long been recognized, and as early as 1899, William James pointed out that, as important as psychology is to education, it is not something from which the nature of the instruction may be directly induced:  “You make a great, a very great mistake, if you think that psychology, being a science of the mind’s laws, is something from which you can deduce definite programs and schemes and methods of instruction for immediate schoolroom use” (James, 1899/1958. p. 23). Instructional theory remained an elusive topic before Gagné’s contributions of the early 1960s. Two primary avenues of thought regarding instructional theory in the decade or so prior to Gagné’s major contributions were a focus on: a) sequence and content concerns from within a curriculum theory frame of reference; and b) application of learning theory, particularly applications within a programmed instruction frame of reference.

Curriculum Theory

Much work that characterizes the status of instructional theory before Gagné is seen in the work of curriculum theorists. People such as Bruner and Tyler are among those whose work concentrated on matters of sequence and the content of learning. Bruner’s (1960) concept of the spiral curriculum and Tyler’s conception of the “rationale” for a course as its design beginning point (1950) are examples of curriculum thinkers’ contributions to instructional thinking.

Historically, the persistent pattern in curriculum thinkers’ approaches to instruction is to place primary emphasis upon teaching. Hosford (1973), for example, defined curriculum, instruction, and teaching much as an instructional systems specialist or instructional technologist might, but he insisted on placing teaching at the center of his conception of instruction and, in subsequent treatment of a theory of instruction, made the continued assumption that teaching and teachers would be the primary (or only) means of implementation. Such a focus on teaching, it appears, prevented some curriculum theorists from thinking vigorously and directly about instruction itself. Nonetheless, for better or worse, the more philosophical contributions from curriculum thinkers formed a substantial proportion of instructional theory.

Bruner’s widely recognized work in instructional theory (1968) proposed four criteria that an instructional theory should meet. An adequate theory of instruction, according to Bruner, would provide the basis for specification of: a) experiences which will induce motivation to learn, b) optimal structures of knowledge for learning, c) optimal sequences of encounter; and d) the nature and pacing of rewards and punishments. In many regards Bruner’s widely heralded work seems now naive and quaint. His concentration on structures of knowledge within disciplines reflects a teaching-centered view of instruction. This structure of knowledge approach groups the “treatment of form of encounter” and “treatment of intrinsic motivation” within a category labeled “rewards and punishments”

Before Gagné’s work had become widely recognized (and, of course, remaining conventional in many education specialties today) many authorities believed that the most important instructional considerations lay within the structures of subject matter disciplines, and with the interface between those structures and the broad developmental characteristics of learners. The structures of knowledge within the various disciplines—such as science, mathematics, or history—were (and are) seen to vary radically from discipline to discipline in conceptual, syntactical, and substantive ways (Ford & Pugno, 1964; Phi Delta Kappa, 1964). Gagné brought scholarship to questions of learning from instruction that arise from the psychological requirements of learning tasks, as opposed to questions which arise from parent disciplines from which subject matter comes. Therefore, Gagné’s influence yielded prescriptive principles which—though not universally adopted in educational theory—have had a substantial impact upon the theory and research that examines educational practice.

In a less widely recognized but at least equally valuable work that was contemporary to Bruner’s, Gordon (1968) presented a relatively mature view of instruction and instructional theory. Gordon defined a theory of instruction as “a set of statements, based on replicable research, which would permit one to predict how particular changes in the educational environment (classroom setting) would affect pupil learning” (p. 3). Gordon differentiated the terms “instruction” and “teaching” by noting that teaching “refers primarily to the human interaction between teacher and pupil” (p. 3) and instruction as the more encompassing term, referring to “the activity which takes place during instruction and within the classroom setting. The term includes both material and human variables” (p. 3). The distinctions that Gordon made between instruction and teaching are useful ones, as the study of instruction and the study of teaching are reflected as separate bodies of literature as well as distinct traditions of interest and inquiry. However, reflecting the curriculum and teaching methods orientation, Gordon restricted his conception of instruction to classroom activities, a restriction that might be viewed as limiting by current instructional theorists.

Applied Learning Theory

Although typically involving itself with animal conditioning experiments, the mainstreams of learning psychology in the first half of the twentieth century, exemplified by Guthrie, Skinner, and Hull, were deeply concerned with human learning. Guthrie’s association-centered theory (Guthrie, 1935, 1942) gave rise to Sheffield’s (1961) work in learning complex sequential tasks and Lumsdaine’s (1961) training research on effects of cueing. Skinner’s operant conditioning saw application by Skinner (1954) and Holland (1960). Hull’s detailed, systematic, and quantified approach to learning based on drive-reduction led to instructionally relevant research on feedback by Miller and Dollard (1941).

Clearly, learning theory was in disarray when Hilgard wrote the concluding chapter to Theories of Learning (Hilgard, 1948):  “We need a more careful delineation of the kinds of learning which take place This search for the appropriate concepts is not merely an exercise in definition or classification. It requires a high order of theory construction, based on open-minded acceptance of demonstrable relationships” (p. 326–327). Almost 30 years later, the concluding chapter in the fourth edition of that work (Hilgard & Bower, 1978) was entitled “Instructional Theory.”  The first reference cited in that chapter is the first review of instructional psychology in Annual Reviews by Gagné and Rohwer (1969). Hilgard and Bower described Gagné’s work to that time as one of three models that provide “indications of what is to come” (1978, p. 614). In addition to Gagné’s “hierarchical theory,” Bruner’s “cognitive-developmental theory” and Atkinson’s “decision-theoretic analysis for optimizing learning” are described. Of these, although all three did important subsequent work, Gagné appears to have gone the furthest toward development of a full instructional theory.

A great deal of interest in the 1950s was generated by the innovation called “programmed instruction.” Embodied in both teaching-machine and text-based forms, programmed instruction carried with it ideas of far greater importance than the competing specific forms and rules dictating format that were matters of heated debate at the time. With programmed instruction, an agency other than a person was seen as an instrument of instruction. Previously, all non-human tools including books, television, and the various forms of audiovisual media, were conceptualized as aids or resources for a teacher’s use. Even the powerful medium of motion pictures (and later television) was viewed as something that had “classroom” uses, which required a teacher’s introduction and follow-up for meaningful learning to anticipated.