3 Agile Learning Frameworks to Replace ADDIE
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Instructional Design
min read

3 Agile Learning Frameworks to Replace ADDIE

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For many businesses, 2020 has been a year of fast adaptation. As companies quickly pivot their strategies, locations, and work structures, Learning and Development departments have to keep up. If L&D can’t provide training materials to support these changes, they risk losing their relevance.

Part of the problem is the standard framework most corporate instructional designers (IDs) use to design and develop educational materials. The ADDIE (an acronym for analysis, design, development, implementation, evaluation) approach is linear, with each phase needing complete fulfillment before moving on to the next. It works well for projects with a leisurely lead time but is painfully slow and inflexible for more dynamic and immediate needs. Enter agile.

Agile is an umbrella term for an entirely different approach to project management that emphasizes constant collaboration and iteration to get projects out the door faster. It was initially born in the software development space, but over the past decade, IDs have begun to apply the same principles to L&D.

There are many different agile frameworks your team could adopt, and some work better with specific projects. We’ll show you three of our favorites. Apply one of these agile management frameworks to your learning process to create learning content faster and more efficiently.


Scrum is the most well-known agile framework. Companies of all sizes use it to manage projects and ongoing workflows. Where ADDIE necessitates that every stage of design is done before moving on to the next, Scrum is iterative, which allows you to work on various stages simultaneously. If your department is drowning in course requests and training needs, Scrum can help you prioritize tasks to meet demand faster.

Scrum emphasizes collaboration, transparency, and deliverables, making it a great ongoing workflow model for tackling both large and small projects. The focus on accountability means that managers can easily see what everyone is working on and maximize efficiency.

The downside of Scrum is that it requires total employee buy-in. Scrum isn't a one-off project management tool; it's a continuous workflow. It requires everyone's commitment, which can be challenging with larger teams or cross-team work.

How it works

Scrum can seem complicated at first glance, but once you master the terminology and the tools, it becomes second nature.

In the Scrum framework, every pending task is entered into the product backlog. Managers prioritize the work, usually with a Kanban board. One person on the team is the "Scrum Master," essentially the project manager. Another person becomes the "Product Owner," who manages and prioritizes tasks in the backlog. Everyone else is part of the development team that works on the project at hand.

The Scrum process is cyclical and incremental. It chunks work tasks into increments of time, called "sprints." These sprints are usually somewhere from one to four weeks long. Before each sprint, the team decides what tasks they need to work on, for example, the component sections of a course that require completion. Each person is designated specific functions that they are responsible for completing. For example, one person might devote their sprint to conducting all SME interviews for a course, while another may be in charge of authoring a course section.

During the sprint, teams meet daily for standups, where each member reports on their progress. At the end of the sprint, the team reviews their process, looks at the deliverables, and sets up for the next sprint. Through this ongoing process, they can continually complete courses, and nothing gets stuck in purgatory.

SAM (Successive Approximation Model)

If Scrum seems like too much of a commitment, SAM is a more straightforward agile framework for quickly creating and modifying course materials. It draws from the ADDIE process, but SAM simplifies and reframes the stages to be more cyclical and iterative.

Like Scrum, SAM originated as a model for software development but works well for L&D projects. It shortens design time by focusing on early completion and frequent iteration. The process is collaborative and receptive to quick pivots in strategy. This flexibility makes it ideal for short courses, updating existing courses, or creating prototypes — anything with a short timeline.

SAM’s quick turnaround time does have some drawbacks. The rapid pace and focus on deliverables mean less consideration of risk compared to ADDIE. If your project needs to be flawless from the start (such as with compliance training or safety courses), SAM is probably not the approach you need.

How it Works

SAM is a simple three-step process:

  1. Preparation. The team performs a training needs analysis and sets out their project goals.
  2. Iterative Design. They design the course and create a prototype.
  3. Iterative Development. The course is uploaded, distributed, and evaluated via employee feedback.

This process can be repeated as many times as needed until the team is satisfied with the results. Frequently, teams complete the project in chunks, so there is always a section in design and one in development.

AGILE Learning Design

AGILE is an excellent choice for L&D departments that want to maximize their ROI. AGILE learning design applies elements of the Agile Manifesto directly to the instructional design process. There is a heavy focus on research, goals, and evaluation. By collecting this data, you can directly tie learning materials to business impact in a way that you can’t by using ADDIE.

Use AGILE on cornerstone learning programs to truly make them stand out. The emphasis on contextual data can help you create learning materials with the greatest organizational impact. It also helps illustrate that impact to superiors, which puts you in a better position to negotiate more budget and resources.

However, the heavy reliance on research and analysis is a double-edged sword. AGILE is a complex model that takes time and skilled work to get right. It may not be the best choice for time- and resource-strapped departments or projects that need to quickly get out the door.

How it Works

Like ADDIE, AGILE is an acronym for a five-stage process:

  • Align. The team evaluates business and learning needs (likely through training needs analysis) and estimates the necessary resources to complete the project.
  • Get Set. More prep work. The team analyzes other contributing factors, including the target audience. They conduct a rapid task analysis and define the roles and tasks each team member will take on.
  • Iterate and Implement. During this stage, the team creates learning materials, with each team member responsible for specific tasks.
  • Leverage. The team leverages available technology resources to distribute the course to learners.
  • Evaluate. The final step of AGILE is the same as with ADDIE. The team evaluates the finished product and determines if any changes are needed.

Like all AGILE project management methods, the process is iterative. Teams can repeat the process as many times as needed as they refine their final product.

Use Agile Learning to Elevate Employee Training

Does embracing agile mean altogether abandoning ADDIE? Not necessarily. There is a reason ADDIE persists as the gold standard in ID course creation. It’s a thorough and effective way to approach course design. But it’s not always the best option for fast-moving corporate teams.

If your department struggles to keep up with demand or is simply looking to work more efficiently, an agile learning framework may be for you. Employing one or more of these agile learning frameworks can help you create a more flexible and responsive training process that better meets the learners in your organization’s needs.

Experiment with using agile for specific projects requiring more flexibility and speed. You may find once you get in the fast lane, you never look back.

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