Does your educational material work?

Whether you are a teacher or an instructional designer, it is certain that at least once, you have created your own activities, lessons or educational resources. But what impact did they have? Did they achieve the expected learning outcomes or did the learners show indifference? In this article, you will be presented with 9 steps that will help you create educational material of high quality.


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Most of the teachers want to break away from the conventional framework offered by the textbook and go one step further. They use a variety of activities, either to motivate the learners or to provide additional knowledge to them. Due to COVID19 and the violent conversion of the traditional classroom to digital, dozens of teachers found themselves creating their own educational material and resources. In most cases, based on the various surveys regarding students’ beliefs, the quality of those resources was below average. So, the question arises. How can you improve the quality of your educational material?

Nine Events of Instruction

To develop quality educational material, whether it is an eLearning course or a traditional classroom lesson plan, we will use Robert Gagne’s Nine Events of Learning.

Robert Gagné was a psychologist. He is known for his work “The Conditions of Learning: Training Applications “. To develop learners’ spiritual skills, Gagné composed a 9-step process known as the Nine Events of Instruction. The ultimate goal of the Nine Events of Instruction is to help learners transfer the knowledge or skills they have acquired to the real world.

First Step - Gain attention 

In the first step of Gagne, you have to gain the attention of the learners. Consider this: Information can be found everywhere online in a matter of minutes. Therefore, if the learners do not immediately find what is presented to them as attractive, they will ignore it and look for something more appealing. To counter this, it is necessary to catch their attention with an interesting introduction presenting your topic.

For example, you can:

  • begin with a proverb or a quote from someone important. Using an expert’s words is always a good way to hook the learners.
  • recite an imaginatively compelling story or narrate a past incident to present your subject
  • use thought-provoking phrases, sentences or facts (eg statistics) to get students interested in the subject. For example, start with the phrase “Did you know that in 1896 the first Olympic Games were held in Athens?
  • instead of just text or video, start with a disorienting dilemma or a question. For example, start with the question “What do you think is the percentage of children who experience violence within their family?”. Through the feedback, the learners may realise not only that the answer they gave is incorrect, but also that the correct reply can be a pretty shocking one. Thus, you attract their interest and highlight the importance of your topic.

If you want to learn other writing techniques to catch the interest of your learners, you can watch the video we have created in YouTube.

Second Step - Inform learners of objectives 

During this phase, the Learning Objectives become known to the learners. In this step, the learners are informed what they should be able to do by the end of the lesson. It’s vital that the Learning Objectives should create expectation and describe the structure of the upcoming lesson.

Some methods to inform the learners about the expected results and objectives of the course are:

  • clearly stating the Learning Objectives. You have to tell the learners what you expect from them. Extra tip? Use Bloom’s Taxonomy to find the most suitable verbs for stating the Learning Objectives correctly. Bloom’s Taxonomy is great, because it can help you make your Learning Objectives measurable
  • stating the minimum requirements that they must achieve in order to successfully complete the course. It is wise to mention the minimum completion score required as well as the evaluation methodology and criteria you have set.

Third Step - Stimulate recall of prior learning

The third of Gagne’s Events is stimulating the recall of previous knowledge. In this third step, the educational designer should relate the new educational material to the previous knowledge already possessed by the learners.

Recalling one’s previous knowledge helps new knowledge to be stored in one’s long-term memory. This is due to the fact that new information is stored in long-term memory when links are made between new information and information that already exists.

This can be achieved through:

  • incorporating prior learning into current activities. You have to consider what prior learning will help them make associations with your new material and not just randomly restate previous knowledge
  • relating previous information from the immediately preceding module or unit to the current topic
  • using examples that the learners are already familiar with.

Fourth Step - Presenting the content

In this step, the instructional designer must present the content. It is best to present only what is needed and not to overflow the learner with irrelevant information. The content should be illustrated using a variety of techniques. This is crucial since one must differentiate the way the content is presented, so as to maintain learners’ attention and increase knowledge acquisition.

Keep in mind that It is important to separate the information logically, in order to avoid overloading the learners’ memory. After all, as the microlearning technique dictates, smaller pieces of information are more easily consumed and are longer retained in learners’ memory. Therefore:

  • group the content into small paragraphs and create small sentences. You definitely don’t want the learners to be intimidated due to the size of your paragraphs or text.
  • make sure that unnecessary information is skipped. Only the important points of knowledge need to be present. The points that absolutely the learners need to know in order to achieve the learning outcomes that have been set
  • use simple and easy to understand language. The level of the language used should match the age and educational level of the learners. If possible, avoid the use of passive voice
  • enrich the content with images, audio or even video to keep learners interested. Be careful with your images though. Make sure that the images you have chosen, help the learners understand the content
  • incorporate branching scenarios. These scenarios enable the learners to use their knowledge and problem-solving skills to deal with real situations. For example, instead of asking a multiple-choice question, which tests how they deal with an incident of violence, you can create a story. In this story, you can describe the incident and then have the learner assume an active role that’s part of the story. The learner is then asked to make decisions in a series of questions. Learners’ choices do matter since every choice leads to a different path.
  • place the references in a separate section away from the main text. In eLearning programs, information has to be presented in a way that prevents cognitive overload. Prefer not to use references that follow the APA or MLA styles unless you are developing courses for college students. Instead, opt for the IEEE style, which uses parentheses and numbers to make quotes.

Fifth Step - Provide Guidance to the learners

At this 5th step, the information is to be understood and stored deep in the learners’ memory. After all, people need to remember what they are taught because that’s the foundation of a successful lesson. To achieve this you need to aid them by providing the necessary guidance. Guidance can be given by:

  • letting the learners know how often they should interact with the educational material. This is especially important if you plan to include forum activities. This is because the learners need to know how regularly they have to post to meet the requirements.
  • including step-by-step guides, especially if you want the learners to be able to do something. For example, a step-by-step guide is a great way to help them understand the use of software
  • adding infographics, case studies and charts to present information. The reason is that images assist in making visual associations, helping the learners connect with new concepts
  • giving them instructions on how to learn, through guided activities or common pitfalls they may fall into. For example, if you ask them to write an essay, it is necessary to provide them with a sample of what would be a perfect essay for the lesson. You can also give them a sample essay that is the exact opposite of what is required by them. Giving an example of what they should not do is a great way to contrast
  • suggest to the learners what to do, after they have completed the course or lesson. For example, you may suggest that they can take another training course or that they can read some additional resources, relevant to the topic.

Sixth Step - Elicit Performance

After presenting the content, you need to give to the learners enough time to practice so that they can achieve the performance you desire. The combination of repetition and recall is crucial for learning.

Some ways to achieve the desired performance are through:

  • tests and quizzes
  • in-class presentations
  • group activities that require learners to collaborate with their peers
  • simulations and scenarios. Both scenarios and stories are great tools to elicit performance. The reason is that through them you give the opportunity to the learners to apply the results of their training in a situation that resembles the real world. Incorporating scenarios that can take place in the real world, allow the learners to see how the skill or knowledge presented to them is relevant to their needs or will help them overcome a challenge that hinders their work performance.

Seventh Step - Provide Feedback

The next step is to provide feedback to the learners. This is inextricably linked to the previous step. Feedback on learners’ choices allows gaps in comprehension to be identified. Feedback isn’t just about confirming correct or incorrect responses. Feedback is about explaining to the learners why their response is either correct or incorrect, thus helping them understand the course content.

Giving a quiz without providing the necessary feedback, essentially cuts off the quiz from the main content. After all, we do not teach to assess. We teach to transfer knowledge, and knowledge can also be transferred through the process of feedback and revision of one’s choices. Therefore, “Correct/ Incorrect” feedback is pointless. So you have to:

  • explain to the learners why their choice is correct or incorrect
  • be positive. Use a friendly tone when someone makes a mistake
  • state the correct response or tell them where to find the correct answer. Don’t leave them searching because if you do so, they’ll probably end up in Google, looking for the right response.

Eighth Step - Assess Performance

In the final step of Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction, the goal is to check whether the expected learning outcomes have been achieved. The most common way to do so is to give the learners an assessment after they have completed the course of the lesson. But it’s not the only one. There are more ways to evaluate learners’ performance. These are:

Pre-test assessment

This type of assessment can help the learners identify what they already know. Thus, they are able to choose whether they want to skip specific sections of the lesson or focus on specific topics, ignoring those that they already know.

Post-test evaluation

This assessment is used to demonstrate whether the learners have understood the content given to them. Post-test evaluation takes place after the completion of the lesson. This way is usually chosen when there is a need to provide a certificate.

Formative assessment

The aim of this assessment is to determine whether the learners have acquired the knowledge presented in a particular unit or module instead.

Ninth Step - Enhance retention and transfer

In the final Event, learners are prepared to apply the information they have learnt to real-world situations and environments. This increases the retention of knowledge as learners connect knowledge with their daily lives and the real world. So, how do you connect knowledge and information with the real world?

  • It would be useful to include files (word format, pdf, etc.) that outline and summarise the content. These are called job-aids. The learners can download these job-aids for future reference, after the completion of the course/lesson. By providing items like this, you bridge one’s learning environment in the real world.
  • Finally, the connection with the real world can be achieved by providing opportunities for the learners to reflect on what they have learned so far. This can be done through reflection questions, that the learner can think of.