The AGES Model & More Cognitive Science

The AGES Model & More Cognitive Science

Hey hey, Intrepid friends,

Let’s talk about a couple of these Declaration of Modern Learner Rights Articles. My favorite is the one really clearly backed up by cognitive science, #7, don’t overload people’s brains. It makes a good pair with #10: “no one involved in designing tech-enabled corporate learning shall forget that people are at the heart of it.”

Put together that means let’s design learning for people—and that means designing for how people learn.

There’s been an explosion of brain science in the last 10 years and there’s a really good model called the AGES Model that I think you should know about.


Get their attention. Allow them to generate their own original insights. Leverage their emotions. And space it out.

So let’s talk first about getting and keeping people’s attention. People only learn when you have their attention (duh). One of my favorite resources for that is the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger. He studied the most popular New York Times articles and came up with the reasons content goes viral—i.e. gets people’s attention.

Generating insights. One of the things I love about the learning experiences we design at Intrepid is that people have an opportunity to absorb a little bit of content, stop and think about it, reflect on their own personal experience (and review the experiences of others), and then articulate their own original insight. When people can generate their own insights, they learn.

Emotions. Emotions rule. A good resource for this one is Dan Ariely’s book Irrationally Yours. It’s a really good book and is about how we make decisions with our emotional brains and we justify them with our rational brains. So, you want to be able to capture people’s emotions, and you need to recognize that people have a lot of very specific emotions when they are learning.


Some emotions are good for getting people’s attention, but when people are already committed to learning, you want to focus on their academic emotions. Things like confusion, frustration, boredom—or better yet, curiosity, delight, and flow.

And the last thing is Spacing. I’ve developed a lot of learning experiences in my time that were self-directed where we put all the content out there for people and we didn’t make it time-bound or give them any structure at all. More often that not, as is human nature, we found that people just waited until the very end and then crammed it all in at once—and cramming doesn’t work. Spacing does. (Check out Will Thalheimer’s work on research into spaced learning).

So that’s a quick overview of the AGES model. I suggest you check out more through the resources I’ve linked to and try applying it to your own learning design. While always keeping the Articles of the Declaration of Modern Learner Rights in mind, naturally.


Judy Albers photo

Judy Albers is a Director, Learning Strategist with Intrepid’s Learning Experience Design team.


  1. Well said, Judy! I especially love the idea of spacing. We don’t always make time for this in corporate learning.

    • Thanks Steph. There is a lot of great research out there about the power of spacing learning out, even just a few minutes a day.

  2. Judy, thanks for this. I have a question for you (and/or the larger community) regarding generating insights, which is relevant and necessary in an ideal situation. What are your thoughts about entry-level employees being brought in for a role where time to productivity is the primary measure? In these situations, there is little for the new hire to absorb, particularly because they have little or no previous experience to relate to the new learning.

    • Great question, Greg (as always!)
      Here’s an example from teller training. New bank tellers need to learn a ton of regulations for which they have no prior knowledge to link. We give them a real life story about a time when the regulation *applies*, something they can relate to their own experience as a bank customer. Then we ask them to explain why the regulation exists, in their own words. I think they key is to keep people thinking, writing, speaking, doing, and not just passively listening. I guide my clients to design learning experiences that ask people to put the reason *why* a policy or procedure exists in their own words.