During Word War II, educational psychologist Robert Gagné’s evaluated the aptitude of Air Force pilots. His pioneering work in instructional design led to a systematic approach to learning that we know today as Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction. This famed nine-step process can be adapted to help instructional designers and trainers in all fields create highly-effective courses in any topic.

Here are Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction, and how you can employ them in your course design.

1. Gain Learners’ Attention

Before a student can learn, he or she must be paying attention. When delivering content in person, you can easily gain your audience’s attention by talking loudly, using animated speech or signs, leveraging props, etc. But effectively gaining students’ attention in eLearning is not that simple, because students have many more stimuli competing for their attention beyond just what you want them to see onscreen.

Just as commercials only have a few seconds to grab people’s attention, the same principle applies to eLearning. Learners will react to your course’s design and aesthetics immediately, and if their first impression is negative, it may not be easy for you to deeply engage with them later.

Luckily, eLearning development tools and technology allow for the use of video, animation, audio, and graphics to produce attention-grabbing effects. Use these tools to intrigue, amuse, shock, dazzle, or even silence your audience into giving you their undivided attention — and then you can start teaching.

For example: Start off with attention-grabbing graphics or video clips featuring interactive scenarios about the subject matter, which will require your students to focus and engage with your content.

2. Inform Learners of Objectives

Now that you have your learners’ attention, your next step is to clearly inform your audience what they will be learning and what they should expect to take away from your course. Establishing and managing their expectations early is key to creating a sense of scope, momentum, and progress. Your objectives should be stated within the first few pages of content. Be sure that your learning objectives are measurable and observable, as you will develop your test questions based on these objectives.

For example: Establish your standard criteria for in-class performance in layman’s terms that your eLearner can easily grasp. A good resource for establishing clear learning objectives can be found here.

3. Stimulate Learners’ Prior Knowledge

Many of us pick up new knowledge and skills more easily if they are related to something we already know, or have prior experience with. Instructional designers should use their students’ prior knowledge to link what’s currently being taught to experiences and data that the learners are already familiar with, as a way to build upon previous base knowledge.

For example: Create “recap” modules to review information, develop interactive scenarios that integrate concepts from previous lessons, or link character-based stories in your new content to events from stories used in past lessons to create a narrative that advances in complexity with the lessons being explained.

4. Present New Material to Learners

A 2015 study by Microsoft shows that the current average attention span of humans is only 8 seconds, compared to 12 seconds in 2000. That’s not much time to gain (and keep) someone’s attention, which makes teaching students something new even more complicated. By beginning new lessons with interesting questions, data, or case studies, you can help hook your students’ attention up front and give them a payoff to look forward to. Just make sure your lessons don’t extend past your students’ likely attention duration, or their ability to retain new information will drop off.

For example: Produce multiple short segments rather than lessons lasting 60 to 90 minutes in duration, and inter-mix assets like video, graphics, charts, and text to help refocus learners’ attention rather than allowing them to get complacent with a predictable pace of content delivery.

5. Provide Learning Guidance to Learners

Instructional designers must aid their students in first understanding and then applying that understanding of new material. Make your content relevant to your students’ “real lives” by using relatable case studies, examples, or stories.

For example: Include cue cards, metaphors, cartoons, analogies, or other mnemonic learning tools throughout the content to help students learn, retain, and apply the information presented in the course.

6. Elicit Learners’ Performance through Practice

eLearning objectives are more easily achieved when your course is designed with 2-way interactions. Instructional designers should not only provide information, but also require active feedback from the learner.

For example: Use mid-point assessments, incorporate interactive quizzes, require responses to queries before moving on, and facilitate inter-student collaboration through group activities/projects.

7. Provide Feedback to Learners

Course designers must also provide appropriate corrective feedback throughout a course. Note that feedback isn’t just about confirming correct or incorrect responses. It’s about explaining why the response is either correct or incorrect and helping learners understand course material. (For more tips on how to deliver this feedback effectively, read our previous post on the subject of contextual feedback.)

For example: Show the correct response to all multiple choice or true/false questions, provide justification for that response, and supply appropriate review links or support materials for additional context.

8. Assess Learners’ Performance

Your course must be designed to continually assesses your learners’ performance. This will help keep learners on track and point out areas they need to review, so they won’t feel adrift or get blindsided by a poor outcome.

For example: Offer pre-course, mid-course, and end-of-course assessments, conduct random quizzes, and provide contextual feedback on assignments and post-course exams.

9. Enhance Learners’ Retention and Application of Knowledge

The culmination of a successful eLearning course is the transfer of knowledge from the training into the student’s life or workplace. Course designers must aid learners in accomplishing this objective by incorporating various support materials and desk reference guides, so their learning doesn’t end abruptly when the course is over.

For example: Provide printable reference guides, downloadable templates, and job aids.


Instructional designers are responsible for creating relevant training materials that will help learners achieve their goals and improve performance. By incorporating Gagné’s Nine Events into your next course design, you will enable learners to easily follow the content and better apply new concepts and skills to achieve organizational goals and objectives.

How CourseArc Can Help

An authoring tool like CourseArc will help you include Gagné’s Nine Events in your online course design, because our tools were built with these types of pedagogy principles in mind.

For example, when it comes to clearly explaining your course objectives (Event 2), we recommend establishing a course template with an overview page where all objectives are stated. See a sample overview page created in CourseArc here. CourseArc also makes it easy to create reusable modules of content that can be revised and revisited in multiple courses — which helps stimulate learners’ prior knowledge (Event 3) — and to create interactive content that elicits learners’ performance (Event 6).

Additional Resources

For more on Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction, read Amanda Hovious’s “What Would Gagné Do?” guide on her blog, and view a sample course about Gagné’s Nine Events that we created using CourseArc.