The Smith and Ragan Model

The Smith and Ragan model is “The systematic and reflective process of translating principles of learning and instruction into plans for instructional materials, activities, information resources and evaluation.” (Ragan and Smith 1999, p. 2)




Instructional models facilitate selecting technologies or methodologies to accomplish predetermined teaching outcomes or learning objectives (Smith and Ragan, 2005). The Smith and Ragan model is popular for Instructional Designers (ID) because it focuses on cognitive psychology while designing instructional plans (Gustafson and Branch, 2002). This model is widely utilized by instructional technology designers that focus on cognitive psychology.

The Smith and Ragan model follows a systematic route which is centered on the problem-solving processes and with the intention of effective learner-centered instruction. Therefore, it is a common model used by professionals in the area of instructional technology; this is interesting because the model emphasizes the design of instructional strategies (Gustafson and Branch, 2002), by creating materials, activities, resources, and evaluation materials (Smith and Ragan, 2005). The following sections presents information about history, key persons, and differentiations between Smith and Ragan models and other models.


In Ragan and Smith (1994) “conditions model” of instruction (p. 666) is largely presented in the work of R. M. Gagné and also seen in the work of Merrill, Reigeluth, Landa, and Tennyson; additionally, it is the theoretical base of the Smith and Ragan model. Gagné’s instructional theory was likewise influenced by previous theorists. Gagné developed information processing theory to clarify the transition processes from initial to goal states of each type of learning (Smith and Ragan, 1996). The Smith and Ragan model is inspired by Gagné’s conditions model, which in turn was influenced by other theories; thus, models are not unique discoveries but rather a combination of previous studies.

Gagné introduced the idea of types of learning theories named “learning prototypes” (Smith and Ragan, 1996, p. 731) and after reviewing theories and research from James, Dewey, Watson, Thorndike, Tolman, Ebbinhaus, Pavlov, and Köhler. Gagné’s studies revealed similarities between previous researches on learning processes, with the only exception being Pavlov’s signal learning theory. See detailed list of previous research on types of learning on Table 1 (Smith and Ragan, 1996).

Table 1

 Types of Learning by Researcher and Date

Adapted from Smith and Regan (1996)

After Gagné, researchers focused on structures of knowledge and considerations about learners’ individual characteristics to perform tasks, and contrary to subject matter questions, to produce prescriptive educational practices, as previously done by various researchers other than Gagné (Smith and Ragan, 1996).

The Smith and Ragan model follows Gagné model of cognitive load and information which combines elements from objectivism and constructivism.  Both generative and supplantive sides elements are important to Smith and Ragan, and Gagné’s model. Gagné foundation core on both approaches is summarized below on Table 2 (Cronjé, 2006).

Table 2

Gagné Foundation Core by Category, Objectivism, and Constructivism





…is identifying by their realities and properties.

    …structured by interactions and          individual thoughts.


…is clearly explained and can be modified.

…is constructed by each individual.


…are representations and significant to their corresponded reality.

…construct reality and represent the culture.

The human mind

…representation of abstract symbols.

…observes the environment and represents by symbols.

Human thought

…is a concrete representation independent of the human organism.

…create by the imagination and perception of the environment.


…is objective and external of the human been.

…is a combination of experiences through an interpretative process.

Adapted from Smith and Regan (2005)

The Smith and Ragan model is based on Gagné’s instruction theory. Models are not unique to one specific researcher but a combination and or modification of components of previous works. Thus, they adapt their specific approaches according to the research and the researchers’ observations. Next, some of the Key person related to the Smith and Ragan model will be explored.

Key Persons

Gagné was a psychologist whose studies were developed in realistic and demanding situations. In 1950, he had the opportunity to work on training research and with a wide variety of instructional issues and learning tasks in a military setting. A great researcher on learning and instruction in a military environment, in addition his psychology background, helped facilitate his development of concepts such as learning, learning rankings, proceedings of instruction, and types of learning. Therefore, Gagné utilized four procedures to create his instructional theory (Smith and Ragan, 1996).  

The procedures according to Smith and Ragan (1996) are as follow:

        “a) Learning goals can be categorized as to learning outcomes or knowledge type;

 b) Acquisition on different outcome categories requires different internal processes;

c) Learning outcomes can be represented in a predictable prerequisite relationship;

d) Acquisition of different outcome categories requires identifiably different instructional processes” (p. 731).

Gagné’s theory is the foundation to “conditions-based’ (p.736) instructional design models and is included in the work of Merrill, Reigeluth, and Smith and Ragan. Merrill expands Gagné’s theory on instructional design studies and recognizes that there are different types of outcomes after presenting a procedure, where each one requires a different assessing procedure. Additionally, Merrill’s work contains the “simplification conditions model” (p.737) where each knowledge structure should have the corresponding simplifying condition structure (Smith and Ragan, 1996).  

Further, Reigeluth elaborates on Merrill’s model for instructional design as an extension of the work done by Merrill; this work focused on complexity, unknown, and multipart instructional design topics. Smith and Ragan expanded and simplified Gagné’s work by developing widespread cognitive process essential for the acquisition of each of the different learning competences, which as then applied to different types of learning (Smith and Ragan, 1996).  The following is a comparison of the Smith and Ragan model to other models.


The Smith and Ragan model diverges from other models because it is innovative by focusing on education and the subject matter instead of procedures and practical academic variety. The classical instructional design models, for example, emphases the design process, procedures, and tools used to implement instruction (Botturi, 2003). Additionally, the Smith and Regan model differs of other models because their instructional strategies focus on analysis, strategy, development, and evaluation of the instruction (Smith and Ragan, 2005). The Smith and Ragan model creates instructional strategies via developing systematically and effectively learner-centered instruction.

Before the Smith and Ragan model, instructional models were developed using procedures relevant on task completion. Principles and procedures are important aspects when reflecting on instructional analysis, developing assessments, and conducting summative and formative evaluations.  This is the classic case of the “black box”, where information that enters the box and comes out the box is known, but what happens inside the box is unidentified (Ragan and Smith, 1994). The Smith and Ragan model on the other hand is based on education psychology and cognitive strategies (Smith and Ragan, 2005). The cognitive approach facilitates viewing what occurs inside the learning process.

The Smith and Ragan model reflects the idea that variances in learning tasks are related to cognitive processes required to perform different tasks. Thus, instruction can either provide the necessary processing needed or assist learners on creating their own processes (Ragan and Smith, 1994). In Hilgart, Ritterband, Thorndike, and Kinzie, (2012), the Smith and Ragan model is viewed as a “simple or common instructional design model” (n.d.), which based on three stages of the instruction design course: analysis, strategy, and evaluation. See figure 1 for a visual representation of Smith and Ragan model.


Adapted from Smith and Ragan (2005)

The Smith and Ragan model outlines the steps of instruction by extending instructional plans into lessons (Ertmer, and Newby, 1993). Next, the general description of each phase of the Smith and Ragan module is presented.

Analysis focuses on the learner’s background and on the creation of learning goals, strategy, organizers, designs, all which provide instructional components (Hilgart et al., 2012). In Lorrie et al. (2012), the analysis process involves four components: contextual analysis, learner analysis, task analysis, and assessment of learning. In the Smith and Ragan analysis is critical to instruction design; however, other researchers overlook this step and focuses on front-end-analysis (Smith and Ragan, 2005).

Contextual analysis focuses on designing and developing instructional tools directly related to the material needed on their environment. Learner analysis identifies the characteristics of each learner and consequently designing effective and tempting instruction.  Task analysis identifies the learner’s need, which in turn facilitates the creation of goals and assessment specifications used during the instruction. The last component is assessment of learning; instruction is presented with the purpose of confirming that the assessment is in concordance with the needs of the learner. Strong objectives produce better assessment and should be developed together (Smith and Ragan, 2005).

Strategy facilitates the elaboration of instructional activities; additionally, theories from different fields such as education, learning psychology, behaviorism, cognitive learning, information processing, and multimedia learning are used to conduct the assessment process (Hilgart et al., 2012). In Lorrie et al. (2012), instructional strategies are composed of organizational, delivery, and management strategies.

Evaluation applies the instruction before it is implemented. During the evaluation process the results are revised, implemented, in order to better guarantee that the goals of instruction are achieved.  During this process, revision and implementation follows (Hilgart et al., 2012). In Lorrie et al. (2012), during the evaluation process, formative and summative information is collected during and after the design process.

Dick and Carey’s designing “Systems Approach Model” (Hilgart, Ritterband, Thorndike and Kinzie, 2012, e89) is a more complex model than the Smith and Ragan model. The Dick and Carey model presents the activities along with the instruction design process. These activities are described in figure 2.

Figure 2

 Adapted from Dick, Carey (2001)

Dick, Carey and Carey also use the same approach when clustering the material presented in a specific instructional strategy (Regan, Robson, 2008). In addition, such material presented to learners should be contextual (Rickey, et al., 2011).  The following are the two sets of information needed to prepare lesson plans.

According to Dick and Carey, first, it is important to understand, diagnose and analyze the instructional problems, and second, to connect applications and research by understanding the possible foundations of the solutions and providing a solution (Smith and Ragan, 2005). Dick and Carey’s Instruction System Design model (ISD) serves as a teaching tool with the purpose of training (Richey, Klein, and Tracey, 2011

The ID model consists in an eight-step process, Gustafson and Branch (2002) listed the following processes: “analyze learning environment, analyze learners, analyze learning tasks, write test items, determine instructional strategies, produce instruction, conduct formative evaluation, and revise instruction” (p. 57). Next an overview of these items is explored.

Analyze learning environment consists of two parts, one is clarifying the need of instruction, and the other is to describe the learning environment where instruction will take place. Analyzing the learner facilitates the investigation of learners’ changes during the learning process. Analyzing learning tasks involves determining the necessary procedures and written instructional goals for the specific designed instruction. Writing tests items can be accomplished by selecting the appropriated assessment that corresponds to the objective selected for the type of learning (Gustafson and Branch, 2002).

Next, instructional strategies are organized to manage instruction. The following instruction is produced by collecting the information on the previous stages and creating instructional materials for trainer guides. Evaluation occurs during and after the instructional material and is implemented to provide value to the selected instructional materials. Finally, revising instruction modifications takes place in regards to planned instruction (Gustafson and Branch, 2002). Thus, the Dick and Carey model is more complex because it presents more activities during the instruction design process

Smith and Ragan use various research literature and theories to develop their instructional model. Other researchers of instructional theory credited by Smith and Ragan include Reigeluth and Jonassen.  According to Reigeluth (1994), there is a need to redesign the learning system with the purpose of accomplishing new learning needs of knowledge (Reigeluth, 1999). Reigeluth interpreted ID as a side of instruction where methods of instructions facilitate education and training programs (Richie, Klein and Tracey, 2011). Additionally, Janssen’s theory has the intention of solving and providing theoretical development to a problem (Reigeluth, 1999).

The Smith and Ragan model is based on previous studies, but differentiates their work from the others is that they use a cognitive approach and create their model and solve learning questions. Therefore, they focus on analyzing the learner’s internal process to acquire knowledge.  


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