Using Gagne’s Learning Outcomes

Drawing on the post above, it’s helpful to take a closer look at some categories of learning outcomes.  The educational psychologist, Robert Gagne set forth five categories of learning outcomes: verbal information, intellectual skill, cognitive strategy, attitude, motor skill.

  • Verbal information can be defined as declarative knowedge: the ability to state facts, concepts and procedures previously learned.
  • Intellectual skills entail understanding how to carry out an action.
  • Cognitive strategies are the skills with which “learners regulate their own internal processes of attending, learning, remembering, and thinking.” Thinking creatively and problem solving are also part of cognitive strategies.
  • Attitudes are defined as an “acquired internal state that influences the choice of personal action” A person’s attitude toward the environment influences whether or not they choose to recycle.
  • Motor skills, while an indication of performance, are not a primary educational goal, and emphasizes the  smooth and accurate performances using muscles.

In library instruction, librarians will likely be preoccupied with verbal information, intellectual, cognitive strategy and, to a lesser extent, attitudes. Motor skills are not likely to be a learning outcome librarians will spend much time with in most library instruction, unless one is teaching patrons how to use a mouse.  Let’s take a look at some categories of outcomes and correlate them to instruction.


Students will need to

  • Know the  various types of sources: scholarly publications, trade journals, magazines, newspapers, etc.
  • Distinguish among the Boolean operators: AND, OR and NOT
  • Understand what a subject heading/descriptor is
  • Know the purpose of a book’s call number,
  • Recognize the parts of a citation


Library instruction often has to change people’s attitude about information.

Convincing people to start with using library resources as opposed to wikipedia or other freely available web resources. Students must understand why it is important to select reliable, authoritative resources. The library is usually not the first choice for information resources.  Plagiarism is another library instruction topic that involves attitude.  Students must also understand that it is unethical to pass off someone else’s idea as one’s own, as well as to copy directly without paraphrasing.


The student will need to

  • Understand how to combine search terms using the Boolean operators AND, OR and NOT on  a database search screen
  • Use hot linked subject headings/descriptors to locate information about a topic.
  • Know the role an article’s abstract and subject headings/descriptors can play in evaluation of the information.  In the case of books, the students must understand the how the table of contents and index aids in the evaluation process.
  • Know how to refine an article search to scholarly, magazine, or newspaper articles only


The student

  • Selects appropriate information resources
  • Thinks creatively about finding the needed information
  • Evaluates the information he or she has found
  • Determines, during the evaluation process, if additional information is needed.
  • Refines, revises, and repeats search process

Having an understanding of Gagné’s learning outcomes can be useful in determining class content for a bibliographic instruction course.  Once the content is determined, the librarian can select the appropriate instructional strategies. .  If students need to know definitions, the course content should ensure that students have or acquire that knowledge.  The instructor will need to make sure that students understand the tools available to them to aid in evaluating the information (e.g. abstract) and revising the search process (subject headings and descriptors).  Students will need to understand how to do anything procedural (where to click, etc.)

Working backward  to determine learning outcomes can provide a fresh look at the standards, and librarian can see what information literacy skills they can realistically attempt to teach.

Further Reading

Driscoll, M. P. (2005). Psychology of learning for instruction (3rd. ed.).  Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Gagné, R.M., Briggs, L.J., & Wager, W.W. (1988). Principles of instructional design (3rd. ed.).   New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Gagné, R.M. (1985). The conditions of learning and theory of instruction (4th ed.).  New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston

Gagné, R.M. & Driscoll, M.P. (1988) . Essentials of learning for instruction (2nd. ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc.


About Pamela J. Morgan

Librarian at Vanderbilt University Libraries
This entry was posted in Information Literacy, Library Instruction and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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