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My Good Friend ADDIE

Sadly, my good friend ADDIE has been getting a bad rap lately. Here are the kinds of things people say:

Bad Rap #1. “ADDIE doesn’t exist.”

Bad Rap #2. “ADDIE is too cumbersome and we need a more agile (successive approximation, lean, etc.) process.”

11-26 Afternoon Meadow

Yes, ADDIE Is Alive and Well

After an extensive search to find its origins, Michael Molenda concluded “that ADDIE is an acronym referring to the major processes that comprise the generic ISD process: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation.”

In addition, he found “that the ADDIE Model is merely a colloquial term used to describe a systematic approach to instructional development, virtually synonymous with instructional systems development (ISD).”

Ask any instructional designer and she will be familiar with ADDIE. Of course.

But here’s the thing: Aside from its five major components, ADDIE is not a specific prescription for developing instruction. The details people often attribute to ADDIE generally reside in the mind of the beholder.

So, when someone says either a) “We follow the ADDIE model,” or b) “ADDIE is obsolete,” we’d have to probe a bit to find out what they mean.

There are roughly a zillion instructional design models in print. I’ve always thought this was because a) professors must publish and b) they develop their own models for obvious reasons (fame, fortune, intellectual property).

But try to find an ISD model that you cannot subsume under the ADDIE model. As Dr. Molenda says, it’s “an umbrella term.” Who doesn’t analyze, at least a little, or plan their design, even if on the back of a napkin? ISD is essentially a problem-solving process for helping people learn… so you’d expect some form of analysis, design, development, implementation & evaluation. That’s unavoidable unless you are flying by the seat of your pants without any kind of plan at all.

ADDIE Can Be as Flexible as We Want It to Be (or Not)

I was in a meeting the other day where someone was talking about a model for designing instruction called “successive approximation.” He was saying that this could be something to try vs. using the ADDIE model, which, he mentioned, is more cumbersome.

Afterward, the designers in the room were asking me about this. I told them there is no “either ADDIE vs. successive approximation” unless you’re just throwing things together capriciously. It’s a false dichotomy.

If you want to develop and deliver decent training, then you cannot afford to completely ignore any of the five processes, whether successively, approximately, or some other way. Seriously, which of them would you give up?

Regardless of the speed or the imaginative process used to put training together, we still want to know something about…

  • What we’re trying to accomplish
  • What folks need to learn that they don’t know already
  • Our audience
  • Where are they? How can we reach them?
  • The content
  • How we’ll present content to them, whether live or some other way
  • How they’ll practice
  • What we’ll do about feedback
  • Logistics for delivery, whether in person or online
  • How we’ll know that we succeeded

We can usually find ways to design instruction quickly—and with ADDIE as an organizing model. What really gets in the way of speed are things like:

  • Analysis paralysis
  • Misunderstandings about the learners
  • No access to the content or to the right subject-matter experts
  • Scope creep
  • Complicated delivery systems
  • Competing priorities
  • People who don’t yet have the experience, expertise, or confidence to put something together that will work

Many think of ADDIE as an old-fashioned, tortuous, lock-step process. And some have absolutely used it that way. But ADDIE is only a high-level framework: it doesn’t prescribe any actions that are either methodical or approximate. It doesn’t require rigid protocols in any particular order. We can use it with spiral, iterative, successive, or [fill in the blank] design models.

In the right hands, and with a little creativity, ADDIE provides a flexible structure for design. We can use it as a general guide for creating training that helps people learn. And, it provides a great organizing schema for reviewing any of those zillion or so more specific models in print.

Article | Molenda (2003). Elusive ADDIE Model (pdf)

Post | Allen (2012). Criteria for the Ideal ID Process Model

Article | Farrington (2012). Seriously, There Is No Time for Design (pdf)

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  • Donald Clark

    Great post Jeanne! I would also add that the U.S. Armed Forces have been using the ADDIE model since the end of the Vietnam war to train their teams to work in some of the most complex environments in the world. This is the U.S. Army’s latest version of the ADDIE model:

    In addition, it has evolved quite a bit since its conception in 1975:

    • jeannefarrington

      Thanks, Don. You know… back in the 90’s, at SunU, we used a model almost exactly like the one you’ve posted here. We were inspired by Dr. Jerry Kemp, from San Jose State, who was an early advocate of non-linear models. He was a generous and enthusiastic advocate for better education and training everywhere.

  • Pat Hatch

    Hi Jean,

    Is there any reason why ADDIE would not work in an Agile environment? I’m thinking specifically about ADDIE and Kanban. I don’t see why ADDIE would not work as the process flow on a Kanban Board. It seems that as I’ve been researching the subject, many believe ADDIE is the antithesis to the Agile model, but based on what I’ve learned about Kanban in the last few days, I don’t see any reason why ADDIE could not be used like this on a Kanban board:
    Along with an expedite/urgent line for things requiring rapid prototyping. Is there any reason you can think of why this cannot work?

    • jeannefarrington

      Hi Pat,

      Thanks for your question. I’m sure you could use ADDIE on a Kanban Board. I like the idea. If you try it, I’d love to hear about how it works for you. You’d have the option to work on tasks in parallel… and as you finish each one, you can drag it to Done.

      When people say that ADDIE is the antithesis of something, I think it’s usually because they have a set idea about what ADDIE means… Someone told them that it has set steps that have to be done in a linear order. But really, you can use the framework in any number of flexible ways.

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