Part 3: Instructional Design Models for ‪Teaching‬ ‪Library‬ Workshops — Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction

In part 1 of this series I talked about instructional design models (IDM) and how they can be a useful pedagogical strategy for librarians designing teaching sessions. Then, in part 2 I gave an overview of one of ADDIE — a prescriptive IDM that is meant to be used in preparation for delivering a workshop. Today I will be talking about Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction; I happen to like this model quite a bit because it’s used to structure your actual teaching delivery as opposed to a rigorous systematic process leading up to it. In that sense it’s practical and can be modified to suit your needs. For this post I will again give a brief overview of Gagne’s Events, and then give my opinion on how useful I think it could be for librarians.

The Nine Events

Robert Gagne is a behaviorist and cognitivist theorist who believed strongly in the idea of a cumulative model of learning (Gagne, 1985). This cumulative model is characterized by the idea that learning new concepts and skills is built upon those already learned. For Gagne, using real-world learning experiences and examples when teaching is necessary for learners to engage with learning material. I strongly believe in this as well. What is the point of teaching a library session and giving examples that work for giving nice clean examples of how to search, but have absolutely no appeal to the audience? In the ideal teaching scenario, Gagne comments that instructional designers’ lessons would be geared towards enhancing prerequisite knowledge; providing content organization and cues for information retrieval; assuring student participation; and using informative and corrective feedback. For Gagne, providing learning guidance throughout each of the Nine Events is the most important step towards developing an effective teaching session. Take a look at the Nine Events below:

Just by looking at the Nine Events, Gagne’s idea of the cumulative learning model is evident in Event 3: build and trigger the learners’ prior knowledge to create a relevant learning session. You can also notice that the Nine Events are designed like stepping stones that lead towards building new knowledge and skills. I do think that Nine steps is a bit over the top for designing a teaching session, and many of these Events can be integrated into one another (the colour codes in the image do a great job of this. That being said, I would like to talk about a few of these events that I think are absolutely vital when teaching as a librarian.

Gaining Attention

As far as I’m concerned the most important step when teaching, gaining the attention of your audience is so important because if you don’t have their attention right off the bat, then you won’t have it for the rest of the session. I always like to start with something that will interest learners or a question that I know they can answer. For example, when I’ve taught undergraduate students I always ask them first where they go to find information — the answer is ALWAYS Google. Then I tell them that I will show them that using library resources can be just as easy as using Google, and will get them better grades on their assignments. Going through the process of showing them that searching for an assignment topic in Google retrieves 1,000,000’s of results while searching in a discipline-specific database retrieves a nice and tidy number of relevant results — this grabs their attention right away. For medical residents, I show them evidence of the fact that residents are poor searchers, and are not acquiring the best information through literature that proves this fact. I like to use this article: Can Emergency Medicine Residents Reliably Use the Internet to Answer Clinical Questions? This article shows that the Internet has given residents a false sense of security with searching. Once you show them an article like this they almost always perk up!

Of course, when I want to get everyone’s attention I always tell my audience that I’m here to help them, I want to help them, and that I LOVE helping them. Letting your students know that you are approachable and excited to help them is probably the best thing you can possibly do while teaching – because it lets them know you’re there!

Providing Guidance & Feedback

I strongly believe that when you’re teaching a lengthy library session you have to let the learners’ practice on their own. I really like an article that David Jonassen wrote in 1999 — in it he discussed the importance of the teacher playing the role of monitor and observer. It is always important to teach the content, but at some point I think you have to place the responsibility back on your learners. As an observer, you can survey the room and be there for anyone who needs help while at the same time giving them the space to try out things on their own. While working with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia, we used this approach often when teaching. The freedom the physicians’ felt throughout the session was much appreciated in the workshop evaluations.

After you’ve given them the freedom to discuss and practice searching and working through various search topics, you then have the ability to bring it back to the group. At this point you can have a good discussion about the challenges each person faced when using library resources, and provide the appropriate feedback. Guidance and feedback are so important, and Gagne’s Events really encourages this type of approach.

Enhancing Retention and Transfer

This is the stage that Gagne’s cumulative model really shows itself. As a librarian, it is important to do your research and make sure search examples will be useful for the students before you walk into a teaching session. Speaking with physicians, faculty, or even some of the students before hand can be a great way to get an idea what your learners will be interested in. I don’t think it is useful to go into a workshop setting for internal medicine residents and using climate change or global warming as an example of using Boolean. This is where a pre-evaluation can come in handy. Sending off a quick email survey to see what audience might be interested in learning about makes a world of difference. Regardless, making your examples applicable to your learners will help enhance their retention of the material and provide a better avenue for applying the new skills to real world situations (Gagne, 1985, Carder et al., 2001).

Another great way to enhance retention and transfer is to provide the students with something to take away; whether it’s a handout or a link to a handout (which, let’s be honest is probably more useful these days than a piece of paper they might recycle on their way out out of a session)

Retention and transfer should also reflect the retention and transfer of the librarian’s skills and expertise. While it is important for the audience to remember some of the skills we have taught, I would argue that it is more important that they remember we’re available to help them and that we want to help them if they get stuck.

I think that if anyone takes anything away from this post it should be that the steps discussed above are useful when we teach. It is crucial that we care about being effective teachers, and that we show that passion to our audience when we teach the content. This passion an excitement rubs off on our leaners, and can make them more excited to use the library and our services. Every time someone visits me from a class I taught and feel comfortable asking me for help I get a huge sense of satisfaction. Just knowing that they saw my enthusiasm, and felt like they could approach me with their issues is such an amazing feeling and proves that I must be doing something right. 

In part 4 (the final part) I will discuss what my goals are for teaching in a library setting.


Carder, L., Willingham, Bibb, D., (2001). Case-based, problem-based learning: Information literacy for the real world. Research Issues, 18(3), 181-190.

Gagne, RM.(1985). The conditions of learning and theory of instruction (4th edition). Orlando, FLA: Holt, Rinehart and Winston Inc. (Original published in 1916).

Jonassen, D. (1999). Designing constructivist learning environments. In C.M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional Design Theories and Models: A New Paradigm of Instructional Theory (Vol. II) (pp. 215–239). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Krause, R., Moscati, R., Halpern, S., Schwartz, DG., et al. (2011). Can emergency medicine residents reliably use the internet to answer clinical questions? Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, 12(4), 442-447.


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