Gagne’s Nine Levels of Learning

As I read about theories in education, I feel that teaching is, to quite an extent intuitive. Perhaps it would be safer to say that we do follow the process of teaching even though we  may not know the research behind why we do, what we do.  Therefore, theories create a shared common language for our understanding.

Theories create a shared common language

for our understanding.

Robert Gagne’s, hierarchical levels of learning is articulated into 9 steps. As I detail them out here, many will instantly say, ‘yes, I do exactly this!’. Nevertheless, it is important to know the exact levels and consciously implement them in our teaching practice for effective student  learning.

Gagne’s Nine Levels of Learning

Level 1 Reception: Gaining attention

How do you get the attention of the student? What is the hook that you are using that will instantly draw the attention of all the learners?

Dave Burgess, Teach Like A Pirate, is a phenomenal book full of ideas for any school and class.

Level 2 Expectancy: Sharing the learning objectives before the start of the lesson or workshop 

Students learn best when we discuss the objective of their learning with them. Writing them down on the board or pointing them out in the syllabus guide helps them place their learning in context. Try asking the students at the end of the class, what they had studied or why they did a certain activity. See if they can link it back to the objectives.

Sharing learning objectives help students see their journey and also ask specific and effective questions as they us the learning objectives as a yardstick to understand where they are and where they want to reach.

Strangely enough many times we select an activity for all the reasons but not necessarily for the reason to link it to the learning objectives that are set for that particular topic. If activities are not carefully selected then they will only work as entertainment and not a strategy to augment learning.

Level 3 Retrieval: Stimulating recall of prior learning 

When students are learning something new, helping them link it to previous learning, forming connections with concepts learnt in the subject or in other subjects helps them understand the new concept better as they see the relational value of it. It is like a map that they start creating around the knowledge that they have and the new knowledge that they are gaining. You can read more about retrieval practice here.

Level 4 Presenting the stimulus: Selective perception

Present new learning scaffolding it with prior learning. New learning can be added in chunks in a meaningful way so as not to create cognitive load for the students.

So, if students are learning new information through an experiment, the teacher can first demonstrate the same. Then again demonstrate it step by step and ask students to perform the steps after her making the whole process simple and specific.

Presenting the same content in multiple ways helps the students revisit the new learning by seeing, listening and practicing leading to better retention.

Level 5 Providing learning guidance: Semantic encoding

Teach strategies to students for cementing new learning. Model varied learning strategies like mind maps, note taking, examples and non-examples, understanding the language and the new terms, building new vocabulary, real world case studies, visuals for anchoring learning etc.

Level 6 Elicit performance: Practice  

Activate learner performance to internalize the learning. The steps that can be taken are: Ask students to recall, retrieve, recite the information they have learnt. Encourage them to show the connection between what they have learnt to their prior knowledge. Ask students to elaborate upon what they have learnt. This will help them extend their learning.

Level 7 Provide feedback: Reinforcement

Provide immediate feedback to access and facilitate learning. In fact feedback feedback should be provided when learning is happening. As students work individually or in groups, teachers can take rounds and make note of areas instances, steps where students struggle and then reinforce their learning by working directly with students then and there or afterwards at the soonest available time for a one to one conference.

Feedback can be:

confirmatory when the student knows what they have done correct

corrective and remedial informs the students of what they could do better and how they can do it better. This is more directional and not about giving the correct answer.

informative where the learning of the student is extended through discussion, suggestion and advanced reading.

analytical feedback is recommendations on how learning can be advanced, what specific concept does the student needs to work more on, what parts of the learning is forming a strong base etc.

Level 8 Access performance: Retrieval 

To evaluate the effectiveness of the lesson, it is important the test to see if the learning outcomes have been met by all students. A pre-test and a post-test strategy gives you a baseline data to compare how strong the learning has happened. Frequent questions during teaching, exit slips after teaching and independent practice by students can provide information for further action. You can read more about it here.

Level 9 Enhance retention and transfer: Generalization 

To develop expertise or to cement new learning, students need to internalize their learning. When students apply their knowledge to real world examples, new situations, paraphrase what they have learnt or engage in peer tutoring, they increase retention of the new knowledge that they have gained.

You can download the PDF of the sketchnote here.

Before implementing the nine step strategy, prepare the learning outcomes for the topic that you intend to teach and collaborate with your peers to build in vertical and horizontal articulations to cater to your students level and needs.


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