The Gerlach and Ely Design Model

The effectiveness of the Gerlach & Ely model of instruction, first introduced in 1971, has proven its value in the intervening decades. Designed by Vernom S. Gerlach and Donald P. Ely, this model “has stood the test of time” and continues to serve “classroom teachers well.” (Ely, as cited in Grabowski & Branch, 2003).

Incorporating the foundational principles of teaching and learning, this model is compatible with media-rich instructional approaches, and is appropriate not only for K-12, but also for use in higher education.

The central focus of the Gerlach & Ely model is on systematic planning, with equal emphasis on two essential factors of effective teaching: clearly defining teaching goals; and methods for reaching each of the desired learning outcomes. To that end, each of the ten elements defined within this model address one or more of these factors.

Gerlach and Ely Instructional Design Model

Gerlach and Ely Instructional Design Model

  1. Specification of Content
  2. Specification of Objectives
  3. Assessment of Entering Behaviors
  4. Determination of Strategy
  5. Organization of Groups
  6. Allocation of Time
  7. Allocation of Space
  8. Selection of Resources
  9. Evaluation of Performance
  10. Analysis of Feedback

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The first two elements are concentrated on the specification of content and objectives, respectively. With respect to defining objectives, planning should focus on clearly delineating the desired skills that learners should be able to demonstrate, the specific conditions under which they should be able to do so, and the specific time within the time span of the course at which they should have mastered specific content. In theory, teachers are responsible for designating the order in which specific portions of the content will be taught. In making these decisions, they may be required to take into account a number of considerations not directly related to the course, such as state or local guidelines, the goals or preferences of supervisors, their own personal experience, and long-term goals.

Ideally, the process of defining learning objectives would be completed first. However, the designers of the model acknowledge that in many cases this is not feasible for a variety of reasons. For instance, it is commonplace for teachers to be provided with a schedule or curricula that requires specific content to be taught at specific times, and in a certain order. While it is preferable that the learning objectives are addressed first, this is not critical, because ultimately in the classroom setting the two are interconnected and synthesized, either can occur first, as denoted by the arrow joining the two vertical boxes in the graphic below.

The third element in the model is an assessment of the individual learner’s previous knowledge and skill level. Because every student will bring different experience and knowledge to the classroom, it is important to ascertain this element prior to the onset of formal instruction. Gerlach and Ely note that the core question that planners must ask is “To what extent has the student learned the terms, concepts, and skills which are part of this course?” (Gerlach, 1980) A variety of assessment methods can be used to answer this question, including, for instance, a pretest.

Elements four through eight are interdependent, in the sense that any decision concerning one of these elements will impact on the others, and will often influence the range of viable options available with respect to the others. For instance, the fourth element concerns the choice of teaching strategies that will be used. There are a broad range of choices related to teaching strategies, encompassing everything from the traditional expository approach, whereby the teacher presents all of the information, to an inquiry method, whereby the teacher acts as a facilitator and guide in assisting students to discover the content on their own. All of these approaches are valid and have value for learners. But choosing a certain approach will usually narrow down the options available with respect to the next element, which involves deciding what organizational style instruction (self-study, small groups, one large group, or an alternative form) will take. Here, appeal to the objectives specified early can assist in selecting the most suitable group size, by considering which of the objectives are best facilitated by learners working on their own, which would be better served by group interaction and discussion, and which would be most effectively taught through formal lecture-style exposition and one-to-one interaction between the teacher and learner.

How these questions are answered will most likely further limit the choices available for elements six and seven, which deal with the allocation of time and space. Decisions about how to allocate time for various teaching activities, and the amount of time for each, will depend to a great extent on the strategies and group organization choices that have already been made. The element of time may exert a considerable influence over potential learning spaces, and vice versa. Likewise, the organization of groups will also greatly impact on decisions about how to allocate space. For instance, if learners will study in small groups, what space requirements will need to be met? If much of the learning experience will occur outside of the classroom, what time and space constraints will need to be kept in mind?

The next element concerns selecting and obtaining appropriate learning resources. One aspect to take into consideration with respect to resources is whether available resources will need to be adapted or supplemented to fulfill learning objectives. Due to the time constraints associated with the classroom setting, it will usually be necessary to select from amongst existing resources rather than develop them for each specific classroom.

Although each of these elements represents an important facet of planning, they are not isolate, but rather simultaneous decisions. Once this part of the planning process is complete, decisions related to evaluation of learners’ performance can be made. What criteria and methods will be used to measure students’ achievement, their engagement with the content, and the overall effectiveness of the teaching strategies?

The final element is that of analysis of feedback, during which all previous decisions are reviewed. The arrow that runs along the bottom of the model from right to left illustrates this step of formative review and revision.


  • Gerlach, V.S., & Ely, D.P. (1980). Teaching & Media: A Systematic Approach (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Incorporated.

  • Grabowski, S., & Branch, R. (2003). Teaching & Media: A Systematic Approach. Retrieved October, 2, 2006 from