Instructional design

Instructional design

ID Models (5/5): Which should I use?

In this brief series of posts I have briefly introduced;

  • ADDIE: A sequential process that, in its classic form, gives you only one shot at meeting everyone’s needs and expectations.
  • Rapid Prototyping: A flexible but less defined process of creating multiple prototypes to test and learn as you go.
  • Successive Approximation Model (SAM): A more structured form of Rapid Prototyping.

Let’s not over-complicate things. Each model is essentially a different way of doing the same things; thinking about what you are trying to achieve, building something and then evaluating what you’ve built. The big new idea that has become almost universally agreed upon is that iterating/prototyping almost always leads to better results.

Most teams take an iterative approach to their use of models. They try them out, see how they work and alter them to suit their needs and their organisations. As long as your team is on the same page, why not just do what works?

Instructional design

ID Models (4/5): SAM

Unlike ADDIE, Rapid Prototyping gave instructional designers and developers the flexibility to jump around in the process and incorporate continuous improvements. Allen Interaction’s Successive Approximation Model (SAM) took rapid prototyping and added some welcome structure that allowed individuals and teams to iterate and change direction with a bit more order.

SAM actually comes in two flavours. SAM1 (for smaller, simpler projects) and SAM2 (for everything else).


SAM1-80SAM1 is a three stage cycle of Analyse, Design and Develop. You might be thinking, “That sounds a lot like ADDIE!”. The difference between SAM1 and ADDIE is that SAM1 is designed to be cycled three times. In the first cycle of the three stages you create a rapid prototype. Then you start the second cycle, Analysing the usage/feedback from that first prototype. As you continue with each cycle the product improves until after the third cycle the finished product emerges.


Asset 7-80SAM2 is the heavyweight version for more complex projects. In the Preparation phase information is gathered and a kick off meeting gathers all stakeholders together to discuss goals and ideas for the project. Then the project moves through to the Iterative Design phase which, like SAM1, cycles rapidly three times, but this time through Design, leading to a Prototype which allows you the opportunity to Review and, cycle again! The end result is an advanced prototype called a Design Proof, a working (but not complete) version of the product that allows you to test out whether your design is likely to achieve your objectives and whether you have the systems and capability to produce it.

Next, the Iterative Development phase cycles, you guessed it, three times through Develop, Implement and Evaluate. The result should be a final product that, because it incorporates feedback from stakeholders throughout, avoids any wrong-turns and is far more likely to achieve its objectives.

Instructional design

ID Models (3/5): Rapid Prototyping

A good instructional design model should help us produce output that meets the objectives of all stakeholders. As we saw in the previous post, ADDIE in its classic form too often does not achieve this because it requires the instructional designer and developer to get everything right first time, without ongoing feedback from stakeholders and the chance to change direction.

Today, with the advent of Rapid Prototyping, from very early on in the process instructional designers and developers create quick and imperfect prototypes and share them with stakeholders, including sponsors, SMEs and learners. Working fast is encouraged. For example, instead of building a complex interaction in Articulate Storyline a quick paper mock-up might be made, allowing the instructional designer to observer learners (or at least colleagues or stakeholders) using the interaction and evaluate its effectiveness, before putting days of work into development. The interaction might change (and improve) recognisably several times before it finally gets created.

In Rapid Prototyping the Design, Development and Evaluation stages of ADDIE are intermingled. The feedback that flows throughout the process means that the final output is many times more likely to meet the everyone’s needs than with classic ADDIE’s “right first time” approach. Instructional designers and developers feel able to innovate and try out new things, knowing that anything that doesn’t work can be ditched. Stakeholders understand better what is being developed when they can get their hands on it, rather than trying to imagine it from a storyboard.

On the down side though, the complexity of moving an inexperienced team back and forth through the process and trying to coordinate everyone’s schedules, work and feedback means it is challenging for inexperienced teams to use Rapid Prototyping.

To tackle this complexity, Allen Associates developed a Rapid Prototyping model that combines the flexibility of prototyping with a clear structure. It’s the next model in our series, the Successive Approximation Model (SAM).

Instructional design

ID Models (2/5): ADDIE

ADDIE dominated instructional design for decades and, to give it its credit, has provided many of the base ideas for the instructional design models that came after it. Its beauty is that it is essentially a linear process that is easy to understand:

  • Analysis: Who are the learners? What is their current level of performance and where do they need to be? What about timeline, resources, constraints, etc?
  • Design: Define your learning objectives. Review and organise the content. Decide on exercises and interactions and how they will be delivered (e.g. courses, quizzes, videos, text, etc).
  • Development: Storyboard (describe in words and images the experience of using the training) and then create the learning content.
  • Implementation: Rollout and promote your learning content.
  • Evaluation: Evaluate how effective your training has been in relation to the learning objectives, possibly using an evaluation model like Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Learning Evaluation.

On first impressions it seems logical, manageable and uncomplicated. But today very few organisations use ADDIE (at least in its classic unaltered form). Why?

Imagine an instructional designer and developer take on a new project and beaver away for weeks creating a piece of learning content. Triumphantly they unveil it to stakeholders. The fanfare fades away. The marketing manager didn’t think it was going to work like that. The sales manager’s unhappy with its appearance. The managing director has a host of ideas about how it could be improved. But the budget has been spent and the course is launched as-is. Learners find it confusing to navigate and are disappointed that it doesn’t cover some key areas.

ADDIE’s great weakness is that there is little opportunity for stakeholders to provide feedback until the project reaches its end, when it is too late to make significant changes.

Consider though what would happen if there was a way of getting such feedback, not at the end of the project, but just 10% of the way in, when you could easily change direction. What if you could also get feedback at 20%, 40%, 70% and at any other point?

Enter the next instructional design model outline in this series, Rapid Prototyping.

Instructional design

Instructional Design (ID) Models (1/5)

Do instructional design (ID) models help us to create better learning content? Or are they over-complicated, rigid processes that promise more than they deliver? Should we adopt a model unquestioningly or adjust it to our situation and organisation?

There is a lot to think about when creating learning content. ID models claim to breakdown the complexity and show us the creator’s suggested path through it, in stages that a team can follow. We just have to hope that the creator knows where to take us.

In this series of posts I will introduce you to three of the most established ID models, namely:

  • ADDIE: A sequential process that, in its classic form, gives you only one shot at meeting everyone’s needs and expectations.
  • Rapid Prototyping: A flexible but less defined process of creating multiple prototypes to test and learn as you go.
  • Successive Approximation Model (SAM): A more structured form of rapid prototyping.

Which is right for you depends on the nature of your project, the culture of your organisation and your appetite for managing complexity.

Let’s begin by learning about the model which almost all proceeding models are based on, ADDIE.