ADDIE is a methodology used by instructional designers to develop learning content. Its 5 stages — Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate — have formed the bedrock of instructional design since the 1970s. But is the method still relevant, or is it a rigid system that prejudices the instructional design process?
In December 1906, the New York Sun announced the death of cycling.
“As a fad cycling is dead, and few individuals now ride for all the good they claim to see in the pastime when it was fashion."
The folks over at the New York Sun weren't the only ones. After an initial surge in popularity in the 1890s, bikes fell out of favor, dismissed as unsafe and impractical.
Of course, the critics were wrong. Cycling didn't die out, and now just under a million people use bikes to commute to work every day in the US alone.
ADDIE, an approach to instructional design that's been around for 50 years, has also been declared dead a few times. Dismissed as rigid, out-dated, or just too slow, the ADDIE method is sometimes abandoned for approaches thought to be more agile.
Despite the occasional bad press, we think ADDIE is an iterative and dynamic framework that is still relevant for instructional designers working in most contexts. In this article, we'll explain the history of ADDIE, walk through steps behind the acronym, explode some of the myths around the method.
What is ADDIE? From Military System to Global Method
ADDIE is an acronym, standing for analyze, design, develop, implement, and evaluate. Together, these 5 steps describe the process for creating an effective piece of instructional content.
ADDIE is one of the most well-known approaches to designing instructional content, and one of the oldest in the field of instructional design. In the 1950s, learning designers like Robert Gagné and Robert Glaser, working with the US military to train recruits, came up with the idea of applying the new field of systems thinking to learning design. We see the roots of ADDIE in their approach.
By the 1970s, and thanks to the Center for Educational Technology at Florida State University for the U.S. Army, that line of thinking had developed into the ADDIE process.
That was 50 years ago, and ADDIE has changed a lot. Contemporary interpretations of ADDIE are iterative, rather than linear. That means that although each step is generally done in order, practitioners are expected to go back and forth between steps, reflecting and iterating at each stage, and revising information if necessary.
It's important to understand that ADDIE isn't a prescriptive instructional design model, like SAM or Merrill's pebble-in-the pond. In fact, it's a "means of describing the essential components of any instructional design model," according to Abbie Brown and Timothy Green's The Essentials of Instructional Design.
Steps in the ADDIE Process
ADDIE is sometimes represented visually as a linear flow, from Analyze through to Evaluate. But it's more accurate to represent the ADDIE process as a feedback loop, in which each step informs both the steps that precede and follow it:
Step 1: Analyze
The Analysis phase aims to help learning designers get answers to fundamental questions:
• Is training necessary?
• Who needs training
• What are their training needs?
• What's the best way to meet those needs.
These questions can be answered by carrying out a variety of sub-steps. Some of these include:
• needs assessment
• performance analysis
• task inventories
• job-task analysis
• learner analysis
• learner ability charts.
• learning environment analysis
Sometimes learning designers will use all these tools during the Analyze step; sometimes they'll only use a couple, depending on context.
Whichever sub-steps you use, the results inform whether training is necessary, and if so, what that training intervention should look like.
In our free course on Instructional Design Principles for Course Creation, we use what we call an "analysis canvas", seen below, to guide us through the Analyze step of ADDIE:
By the end of the course, the canvas contains information you can use to make important decisions about your course and how it will be presented to your learners. But that information isn't static; instead, we treat the canvas as a living document that gets updated as you move through the steps of ADDIE.
Step 2: Design
During the design phase, you use the findings from your analysis to make decisions about your learning intervention. The aim of this step is to have a blueprint of what your training or course will look like.
We like to start by setting overall learning objectives, which instructional designers rely on to keep their design process focused. Learning objectives are usually statements about what a student will learn by the end of the intervention. They can take various forms, but in our free course we focus on two:
• Course-level learning objectives (CLO): A course-level objective is a big, abstract instructional goal inspired by findings from your analysis phase.
• Learning objectives (LO): Objectives that are informed by the CLO, and smaller in scope
Both CLOs and LOs describe something that the learner should be able to do by the end of the intervention. That focus on doing, on action, means instructional designers use verbs that represent types of engagement or behavior when writing learning objectives.
You can use learning objectives to formulate your instructional approach and the types of learning activities that you would like your learners to engage with. Focus on the verbs used to create your learning objectives. This will ensure that your learning activities are aligned with what you would like learners to do. For example, if you would like your learners to prove that they can remember something, you may use a quiz; if your learners need to analyze or evaluate something, you might give them a case study and ask them to answer a few questions and write a submission.
During this phase, you might want to leverage backward design, a process that instructional designers use to build learning experiences around specific learning goals. Backward design requires that you build training assessments first, based on learning objectives. You then build course activities and content based on those objectives and assessments.
For example, build in formative assessments if you want to emphasize feedback. A discussion forum is the ideal format for this type of activity. Learners can add a comment based on your question or scenario and get feedback from peers and the facilitator. Read this article on the Eduflow blog about creating engaging discussion questions.
Once you have established your instructional approach, you can start looking for platforms that will enable your learners to engage with your learning material. One of these key decisions is choosing a learning management system (LMS), a learning experience platform (find out what the difference is), or another sort of content authoring tool. Although we think that Eduflow is the best online learning platform 😎 you may prefer hearing from a more objective authority. We like this Educause article that describes a thorough approach for selecting an LMS.
By the end of ADDIE's design stage, you'll have a training design that lines up the course's learning objectives, assessments, and learning material. During our course, we use a template 'Design Document' to help us organize the Design phase and build the learning intervention.
Step 3: Develop
Once you have created your course outline, you can start building! This is arguably the most time-consuming part of the ADDIE process, during which designers have to decide how they will organize and present information in a meaningful and digestible way.
Use the concept of constructive alignment as a guide and try to remain in the sweet spot where your learning objectives, learning material, and assessments are always aligned.
By the end of this stage, you should have a finished learning intervention in hand and ready to launch.
Step 4: Implement
Learning design doesn't stop when you've got a finished course. There's also some project management to be done during the 'Implement' step of ADDIE. Here, you need to create a plan and prepare all stakeholders for their duties as learners engage with the course material.
You'll want to focus on 2 main aspects of implementation:
• Quality assurance: A process to ensure that your course has been developed according to predetermined standards. Learning designers often turn to checklists or rubrics that focus on specific aspects that determine the quality of an online course. The Online Learning Consortium's free course design review is a great template to use.
• An implementation plan: A summary of the tasks and events associated with your course, and who's responsible for them.
By the end of this stage, you should have training interventions live on whatever distribution platform you chose in the design stage, and a plan that lays out who does what during launch and maintenance of the training.
Step 5: Evaluate
In the 'Evaluate' stage of ADDIE, you assess how successfully your work achieved the goals that you identified during your analysis and design phases. Even though this is the 5th step in the ADDIE process, that it's not always the final phase of the ADDIE process.
ADDIE is not linear, which suggests that you should use the findings from your evaluation to improve your course. Depending on your findings, these improvements may apply to any one of the other steps in ADDIE. For example, insights from your evaluation can suggest that your needs statement was not accurate, which means that you might need to change your entire approach.
Many instructional designers use the Kirkpatrick model of training evaluation to evaluate their work. The model introduces the four categories of evaluation, defined in Kirkpatrick's work as:
1. Reaction: “The degree to which participants find the training favorable, engaging, and relevant to their jobs”.
2. Learning: “The degree to which participants acquire the intended knowledge, skills, attitude, confidence, and commitment based on their participation in the training”.
3. Behavior: “The degree to which participants apply what they learned during training when they are back on the job”.
4. Results: “The degree to which targeted outcomes occur as a result of the training and the support and accountability package”.
Watch instructional designer Devlin Peck break down the Kirkpatrick Model in the video below:
By the end of the 'Evaluate' stage you should have a report of the impact that the training had on the organization's goals (or addressing the need you identified during the analysis phase). You will also be able to recommend changes that would make your training more effective in the future.
ADDIE Myths: Outdated and Rigid?
You might hear instructional designers say methods like ADDIE "don’t help us iterate and adapt to our users", are too restrictive, or take too long to do.
Myth 1: ADDIE isn't iterative
ADDIE can be rigid if you follow a strictly linear process. This waterfall approach sees learning designers move on from one step to the next, without circling back or repeating steps if necessary.
But there's no reason to follow a linear ADDIE. As we mentioned at the start of the article, ADDIE isn't a prescriptive framework but a way of describing how instructional content gets made. There's no reason why you can't change ADDIE into ADADIEEDADDEEAE, or a similar iterative mix of the 5 steps.
Myth 2: ADDIE is too restrictive
ADDIE feels restrictive if you're afraid of augmenting it. Layering in complementary approaches like Phillips ROI allows you to customize ADDIE as a process for your context.
Myth 3: ADDIE is slower than other approaches
It's true that ADDIE can be slower than other methodologies like the Successive Approximation Model (SAM), mainly because of the depth of the analysis phase (SAM is therefore a great process to follow when you're creating learning interventions in a reduced timeframe). However, we would argue that spending a little more time on the Analyze phase is actually positive, as you're more likely to create trainings that align with learner needs and skills gaps.
Remember, ADDIE is not a prescriptive methodology, but a way of describing the components of the instructional design process. As such, it doesn't have to be rigidly adhered to and is not a didactic framework. Play around with it!
Example of ADDIE Process in Practise
In Instructional Design Principles for Course Creation, we take you through the ADDIE process in 3 weeks. But we also used the ADDIE process ourselves when designing the free course.
Program coordinator William Cronje explains:
"The course is cohort-based, so I have a valuable opportunity to employ an iterative approach to update the course in-between cohorts. My findings from the evaluation phase (from course evaluation surveys and engagement rates, for example) give me an idea of what works and what needs to be improved. This approach allows the course to grow and improve over time."
When William was designing the course, he hopped back and forth between the different stages of ADDIE as and when he needed to. And he continues to do so as he collects feedback from course-takers. He's still following ADDIE, but keeping it agile and iterative.
That's how contemporary ADDIE works best: take an iterative approach, augment the steps according to context, and don't be afraid to evolve the approach as and when you need to.
After all, bikes have evolved since the days of the Pennyfarthing. ADDIE has too.