Smith and Ragan open their book with a series of solid, foundational definitions. As they describe it, “instructional design” is “the systematic and reflective process of translating principles of learning and instruction into plans for instructional materials, activities, information resources, and evaluation” (p. 2). “Instruction” is defined (for the authors’ expressed purposes, at least) in part as relatively distinct from terms such as “training,” “teaching,” and “education.” The term “design,” in turn, Smith and Ragan note, “implies a systematic or intensive planning and ideation process prior to the development of something or the execution of some plan in order to solve a problem” (p. 4).
The authors go on to describe the instructional design process—or, rather, (indicating that there is no “one size fits all solution” to the design process), they offer a framework or guide to some of the more used/accepted approaches to the process. Smith and Ragan also qualify their descriptions by noting that, while the instructional design process “may often be portrayed as linear, in practice it is frequently iterative, moving back and forth between activities as the project develops” (p. 11).
The two foundational poles the authors present in the second chapter are rationalism–of which constructivism is one form, wherein “reason is the primary source of knowledge and that reality is constructed rather than discovered” (p .19)—and empiricism—”sometimes termed objectivism,… postulates that knowledge is acquired through experience…. [, and that] experience allows an individual to come to know a reality that is objective and singular” (p. 22).
Smith and Ragan subcategorize Constructivism into individual constructivism, social constructivism, and contextualism. Between rationalism-constructivism and empiricism-objectivism, the authors place their own position, “‘Pragmatism,’ which might be considered a ‘middle ground’ between rationalism (constructivism) and empiricism…. Although pragmatists, like empiricists, believe that knowledge is acquired through experience, they believe that this knowledge is interpreted through reason and is temporary and tentative” (22).