AGES model of effective learning

Posted by Greten on 09 Dec 2018 under Theories

What are your reasons for learning? How did you do it? Many would probably answer the first question with something like "to pass the test" or "to advance to the next grade" and the second question with something like "I read my books often" or "I practice writing or solving problems". Brute practice and rote memorization are indeed effective in passing the test and moving to the next grade, but not in retaining the knowledge and skills over a long period so that they can be applied in real life setting.

AGES model is an effective learning model that relies on how the human brain works to retain knowledge in long-term memory. AGES is an acronym that stands for Attention, Generation, Emotion, and Spacing. It is useful in both classroom teaching and elearning development. You probably incorporated some of the processes involved in AGES model in your learning habits and your instructional design without realizing it.


The learner learns better if they have undivided attention to what they are learning. When a person pays attention to something, say an event they are seeing or a tune they are hearing, their hippocampus activates. Hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for creating long-term memories and makes the person less likely to forget them. Meaning, when a learner focuses on what they are studying, it is likely to go to long-term memory.

Thus, a well-designed elearning module should encourage learners to give it undivided attention, such including an instruction asking the learner to close the windows to social media accounts.

Studies show that adults have the average attention span of 20 minutes and can vary with age. Although the science is not yet established regarding attention span, what is clear is that the shorter the learning sessions are, the better for focusing attention. If you find a lesson is too long for 20 minutes, do not develop it into a single continuous lesson, divide it into two or more sessions with learning breaks in between each two adjacent sessions.


The brain stores knowledge not in groups of discrete information but in a web of interconnected pieces related to one another; kind of like the neurons or nerve cells that make up the brain. Do you remember a situation in which you've forgotten something, and then you managed to recall it by recalling related information?

For example, you realized that you misplaced your cell phone and cannot recall where you placed it. The first thing you'll probably do is to recall the places you visited, say the kitchen of your house. Then, you recalled that you cooked a meal that requires a very large boiler so you need to open the overhead cabinet where you stored it. Then, you recalled that you need to use two hands to pull out the boiler. Realizing that when you use your two hands, you need to put down the cell phone as you pull out the boiler, you now remember that you actually put the cellphone inside the overhead cabinet.

In the process of learning, a good approach is not to bombard the learners with new information, but to use their past knowledge and experience as an anchor to connect the new information. For example, a student already knows about the layers of the Earth, the continents, and volcanic eruption; you can mention them in the introduction in a learning module for a new topic, the plate tectonics theory.


Learning is more powerful, and knowledge is retained better if accompanied by a strong emotion. This partly explains why lessons that come with humor are effective; the other part is that humor generally makes people awake. Even negative emotions enhance memory recall, but it is not a good idea to use it in elearning because negative emotions also prevent people from thinking rationally and actively working to learn.

The amygdala is a small organ adjacent to the hippocampus. When an incoming information stimulates emotion, the amygdala is activated and sends a signal to the hippocampus to focus attention on the information. In turn, the activation of the hippocampus fast-tracks the information to the long-term memory.

Thus, one way of making your learning modules or elearning programs effective is by designing them not just to feed information but also to stimulate positive emotion.


Design the learning process such that there are ample spaces between the learning sessions. These spaces allow students to reflect on what they learned and to build more connections between existing knowledge and what they just learned. The longer the time it takes to learn a lesson, the longer the time should be between it and the next lesson. This phenomenon, in which learning is tends to stick better when the learning process is spread out over time is called the spacing effect.

Learning over several sessions is better for retention of knowledge instead of a few longer sessions. For example, design your elearning course to have several short sessions instead of a few long ones. Three 10-minute elearning lessons taken on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday is better than a 30-minute elearning lesson taken in just one day.

The spacing effect is also utilized in spaced repetition, where the lesson in the same or different context, is repeated days after it was first discussed to strengthen the learning, and testing effect, in which the learner's attempt to recall what they learned several days prior make it stick better in the long term memory.

Simple graphics of an eye, a nerve cell, a heart, and a clock.In designing your elearning course, remember the acronym AGES: attention, generation, emotion, and spacing. Your elearning course should catch and keep the learners' undivided attention, generate connections between new and existing knowledge, associate the incoming knowledge with strong positive emotion, and has spacing in time when the learners are not absorbing new information.


Last updated on 25 Aug 2019.

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Instructional design and educational technology for effective learning