Gagne's theory of Learning

Robert M. Gagne is a prominent educational psychologist whose ideas on the 'conditions of learning' are generally employed in every teaching learning

Gagne's Hierarchical Theory

Robert M. Gagne is a prominent educational psychologist whose ideas on the 'conditions of learning' are generally employed in every teaching learning process. He identifies the factors which account for the complex nature of human learning and his point of view is often used to underpin the mechanistic instructional technology that is associated with behaviour modification and performance or competency based education.

Gagne's theory of Learning

Gagne (1984) has described learning as a change in the behaviour of an individual that is retained and that makes possible a corresponding change in his or her behaviour in a particular situation. According to him. learning a process that takes plf inside an individual's brain. The most important aspects of a learner are 'his senses, his central nervous system, and his muscles'.

Gagne combined a basic behaviourist position with elements of cognitive thought and built an hierarchical model of the different types of learning. He thus shows the way in which a unifying theory may be able to explain how different kinds of learning relate to each other. He synthesized the existing theories of learning and tried to provide a consistent explanation for all types of learning with the help of a set of psychological principles of learning. For example, learners learn best when information is presented in logical sequences consisting of short units with a clear framework.

Conditions of Learning

Gagne identifies eight conditions of learning, or learning types or varieties of learning, beginning with the simple ones and ending with the complex ones. Although Gagne refers to these conditions as learning types, he is primarily interested in the observable behaviour and performance which are the products of these conditions. In these conditions of learning he combined the basic behaviourist view with cognitive theory to present a hierarchical model of different types of learning.

1. Signal learning:- The individual acquires a conditioned response to a given signal, the learning is involuntary.

2. Stimulus-response learning:- The individual makes responses to specific stimuli: the correct response is rewarded.

3. Chaining:- Two or more previously learned stimulus-response connections are linked together.

4. Verbal association:- Chains that are verbal, e.g.. a child identifies an object and calls it by its proper name (e.g., 'the red ball'), or it finds a Hindi or French equivalent for an English word.

5. Multiple discrimination:- The learner learns to distinguish between motor and verbal chains which s/he has already acquired.

6. Concept learning:- A common response to a class of stimuli; in learning a concept the learner responds to stimuli by identifying its abstract characteristics like shape, colour, etc.

7. Rule learning:- In learning a rule we relate two or more concepts. For example: at 100°C water will boil'. Here temperature and boiling-point are two concepts related by a rule.

8. Problem solving:- The learner uses the rules learned to achieve some goals; problem solving is the combined product of two or more Tower-order rules; it thus requires an internal event i.e. thinking to take place for solving a problem.

For example, a learner is posed with a problem to prove that air has pressure. For solving this problem s/he has to learn a few lower-order rules such as

  • (i) air can support a column of water
  • (ii) the weight of air is approximately 15 pound per square inch on every surface in every direction,
  • (iii) air pushes upwards as well as downwards.

Gagne has identified nine stages of cognitive processing that are essential to learning and which need to be executed in a sequential order. These stages are:

  1. Gaining attention;
  2. Informing the learner of the objectives;
  3. Stimulating recall of prerequisite learning;
  4. Presenting the stimulus material;
  5. Providing learning guidance;
  6. Eliciting the performance;
  7. Providing feedback about performance correctness;
  8. Assessing the performance;
  9. Enhancing retention and transfer.

By sequencing instruction in this way, one creates external conditions which complement the internal condition. These phases of learning are the typical series of external and internal events that constitute a single learning act. The internal conditions of learning include two factors-the learner's psychological state and the cognitive processes required for learning. The internal processes may be influenced by external events in the form of environmental stimulation.

Importance of Learning Phases

1. Preparation Learning:- Drawing learners' attention to the stimulus. Informing the learners of learning goals/objectives. Providing recall of prerequisite behaviour/learning.

2. Acquisition of Performance:- Presenting stimulus materials; Permitting temporary storage of stimulus features in working memory. Transferring stimulus features and related information to long-term memory. Retrieving stored information. Activating response. Providing information and feedback about the correctness of performance.

3. Transfer of learning:- Providing additional cues for later recall of capability and assessment of performance. Enhancing retention and transfer of learning to new situations/contexts (Generalisation).

Gagne's model of instruction

The foundation of Gagne's model relates to his conception of the organization of knowledge in terms of outcomes of learning. This structure concentrates on general classification of learning tasks, thus relating to all content areas. This model includes five types/varieties of learning. Gagne identifies five types or varieties of learning. They are:

1. Verbal Information Skill

Verbal information skill provides the ability to state or to recall information (facts, definitions, labels, etc.). This has to be developed to meet the needs of any particular subject matter.

2. Intellectual skill

Intellectual skill are the most important ones, involving mental operations. They include conceptualisation of the environment, differentiating things from each other, understanding concepts, seeing relationships between things. Reading, writing, and handling of numbers are the other abilities which come under this variety of skill. These abilities range from the simple to the complex.

3. Motor skill

Motor skills are physical skills. These include the ability to perform a sequence of physical movements.

4. Cognitive strategies

Cognitive strategies refer to the learner's thinking, remembering and learning the procedures we use for ordering the processing information internally. They are learned over long periods of time.

5. Attitudes

Attitudes are deep-rooted in us and we find it difficult-to change then They determine our predisposition towards positive or negative responses to an object. Our attitudes strongly affect our motivation for learning.

Each type of learning is acquired in different ways, i.e., each requires a different set of prerequisite skills and a different set of cognitive-process (ie., internal conditions of learning). Gagne accepts that environmental stimuli (i.e., external conditions of learning) are required to support the learner's cognitive process during learning.

Educational implications of Gagne's theory of learning

We present here three brond educational implications of Gagne's theory of learning:

(i) Prerequisite behaviour:- Gagne advocated that processes of learning move from the simple to the complex. The learner has to develop prerequisite capabilities before s/he acquires new terminal behaviour. Thus the use of an hierarchy of learning and task analysis are integral parts of instructional transactions.

(ii) Learner's characteristics:- Learners' individual differences, readiness and motivation to learn are the important issues to be considered before designing instructional activities.

(iii) Cognitive process and instruction:- The transfer of learning, the self-management skills of the learner, and teaching learners the skills of problem solving are integral parts of the internal conditions of learning, applicable to instruction. The skill of learning how to learn' should be developed in the learner and the emphasis should be on the learner's individuality.

Conclusion

We conclude that learning conditions are an important factor in the relationship between teaching and learning. Teaching activities under appropriate learning conditions conduct the learning process in which the student brings about changes in behavior through his experiences and actions. Due to the coordination of teaching and learning activities, proper development of the personality of the child takes place. Therefore, coordination of teaching and learning activities is necessary for the development of the student.

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