How to design an eLearning course

Wouldn’t it be great to have a step-by-step guide that could help you create an engaging and comprehensive online experience for your learners? In this article, I’ll show you how to apply the 9 Events of Instruction introduced by Robert Gagné, in order to develop eLearning experiences that stick.


Gagne`s 9 Events of instruction

Robert Gagné identified 9 events of instruction which serve as the basis for designing learning experiences and selecting appropriate media. You can use these events as a scaffold to guide your planning of your eLearning course.


1. Gaining attention (reception)

Research shows that our attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish. Learners decide within seconds if your course will be worth taking or not. This is why you have to gain the learners attention immediately. Thus make sure to create a compelling introduction that hooks the learner right from the start.

How to do that? Here are some ideas:

  • Show a short, emotional introductory video
  • Start with a controverse question
  • Tell a story that arouses certain emotions that fit to the topic
  • Lead off with some surprising or shocking facts

Make sure your introduction is visually appealing and has a modern design. Furthermore, it should be short and interesting. Make the learner want to know more.


2. Informing learners of the objective (expectancy)

Next you should inform the learner about the objective(s) of the course. But do not make the mistake and just make a list of boring learning objectives.

The objectives should have a motivational effect on the learner. Here are some ideas how to do that:

  • Describe what the learner will be able to do after he has completed the course, e.g. “You will be able to handle medical emergencies professionally
  • Describe the learning objectives as tasks, e.g. your task will be to help Tina make the right decisions during a medical emergency


Convince your learners that they are going to take something valuable away from the eLearning experience. Then they are more likely to engage in the learning process.


3. Stimulating recall of prior learning (retrieval)

For learners it is easier to apply new information if they get the chance to put it in relation with already existing knowledge and experience.

Thus you should let the learners know how the subject matter is connected to information they already have in their knowledge base.

Here are some ideas how to do that:

  • Ask open questions so that learners have to recall prior knowledge or experience
  • Let the learners do a quiz or test on the subject matter before you are going to explain it in detail
  • Let the learner jump right into a scenario without presenting all the information he might needs to know beforehand. Let the learner try to solve the problem and let him pull information he doesn`t know.


4. Presenting the stimulus (selective perception)

This event of instruction is about presenting the content of the course. There are countless options on how to present information effectively. What is most important: Make sure that all your content is related to a learning objective. Only present the content the learner really needs to know to accomplish the goal of the course.

One rule of thumb is that each module or lesson should only focus on one core objective.

Furthermore, you want the learner to stay engaged and motivated to complete the course. Thus, here is some inspiration:

  • Scenarios: Scenarios are a good way to develop problem solving skills and to keep the learner engaged. It doesn`t always have to be a branching scenario. Sometimes a couple of mini scenarios are all you need.
  • Gamify your course: Present the learner with a challenge he has to solve and  spice up your course with rewards, points and badges.
  • Storytelling: Turn your content into a story the learner can relate to.


5. Providing learning guidance (semantic encoding)

Even the most advanced online learners may need some guidance when it comes to learning new skills.  Otherwise, they may become discouraged or frustrated and disengage from the eLearning experience altogether.

Thus make sure that the learner always knows what he is expected to do.

Here are some tips:

  • Make sure your course has a user-friendly navigation and provide on-screen instructions when presenting a new activity
  • Provide some tips throughout the course that help the learners with more difficult concepts or questions
  • Use examples or case studies to explain complex information or concepts


6. Eliciting performance (responding)

Practice makes perfect. Thus, you should include plenty of opportunities for your learners to apply the knowledge they have acquired so far.

Here are some ideas:

  • With a short knowledge check after each lesson the learner can check if he has understood the new information correctly and if he is able to recall it.
  • Let the learner apply the knowledge in a (mini) scenario. Make sure that the scenario is realistic and close to situations the learner faces in the real world.
  • If your course is about learning a new software, you can offer your learner a simulation that gives him the chance to practice using the software without the risk of breaking something.


7. Providing feedback (reinforcement)

Learners can only improve and identify their weaknesses and strengths if you give them timely feedback

Here are some tips how you can do that:

  • If you work with scenarios or simulations don`t just tell the learners if their decision was correct or incorrect. Show them the consequences of their decisions.
  • Let the learner try again if he chose the wrong answer and give him a hint.
  • Tell the learner why a certain answer is wrong. And always tell the learner which answer or decision is correct and why. Don`t leave him in the dark.


8. Assessing performance (retrieval)

This event of instruction is about assessing your learner`s performance. In a typical e-Learning course this usually refers to the quiz- or test part. Assessments offer you and your learners the ability to identify knowledge gaps.

Here are some tips:

  • Only assess what has been covered in the course. Do not ask questions that haven`t been covered.
  • Do not present any new information in this part of the course


9. Enhancing retention and transfer (generalization)

How can you make sure that the learners are able to apply the knowledge and skills acquired in the course outside of the virtual learning environment?

Here are some ideas how you can support your learners:

  • Provide a job aid or some other documents (e.g. checklists, tutorials) that learners can use as “cheat-sheets”
  • Offer some short quizzes or scenarios the learners can do within the first few weeks after completing the online course



Robert Gagné`s 9 events of instruction provide an effective blueprint for creating engaging eLearning courses. By the way, we also follow Gagné`s  9 events of instruction when building our templates.