Why ADDIE Still Matters -- Always Will

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ISD stands for instructional system design. However, I’ve noticed over the past four or five years that the “S” (for system) has been dropped when referring to our area of expertise, at about the same time that the ADDIE methodology has been falling out of fashion. This shouldn’t be happening.

None of us works in a vacuum. Don Clark, on his website, describes how all systems have three basic components: input, process, and output. According to Clark, the system inputs and functions of ISD (and ADDIE) are: 

  • People: The instructional designers, SMEs, trainers, learners, and so forth. (Adding: stakeholders, project manager, finance.)

  • Material: The content produced, such as lesson plans, slides, activities, and performance aids that help the learners to become better performers. (Adding: e-learning courses or modules, facilitator guides, handouts, presentations, job aids, classroom sessions, courses.)

  • Technology: The learning methodologies, strategy, and media that enable the instructional designers to produce customized content. It also includes the technology that the learners are trying to master. (Adding: Tools, apps, media, presentations.)

  • Time: The time invested in creating the learning platform and the time used helping people to learn a new skill.

Training is mostly concerned where people and technology meet — look for the means to help workers master and apply the unique technologies governing their tasks. The goal in a good learning process is to allow the workers to use the available technology efficiently and effectively so that they may perform better.

And, the three basic functions of ISD identified by Clark are:

  • Input: The instructional designers, SMEs, trainers, learners, content, learning methodologies, media, strategies, and so on.

  • Process: Create and organize content that will aid learners to gain new knowledge and skills in order to master a skill.

  • Output: People who can perform the necessary processes and functions of their organization.

ISD almost always starts by identifying what the customer needs (business need) so that developers can create the best output possible. So, where did the “S” go? And why are so many beating up on ADDIE? It is the architecture and framework upon which most other frameworks were built after all. 

Time to Bust Some Myths

Those who have strayed from ISD (and ADDIE) believe their reasons are valid. But they only look at part of the overall process or system.

Myth #1: It Takes Too Long
Often, people believe that each element must be completed one item at a time, before moving forward. Their impression is that they can’t move forward without completion and sign-off. However, no one said that the only way to work with ADDIE is to do each element one item at a time. And frankly, to think so is silly. No wonder projects languish or stall. Instead, it’s possible to work through phases in an overlapping, and sometimes a circular, fashion.

Myth #2: It Takes Too Many Resources
Quite simply, no, it really doesn’t. The same people in their respective roles are involved, regardless.

Myth #3: It Slows the Instructional Designer Down
Again, no. The instructional designer wears many hats and will be involved at every stage, from beginning to end, no matter what. Sometimes that involvement is light; other times, it’s intense. But that’s the gig. It’s worth noting that in situations where a team of designers are involved, a leader or representative of the collective will be involved at every level and may choose to rotate designers in and out, according to their project load and expertise. 

ADDIE at Work

Let’s spend some time with ADDIE and how to work with it, and not beat it down. Most of this information should be basic reminders, but hopefully there will be a few “aha” moments, too.

A Is for… Needs Identification
Kidding/not kidding. There’s a small controversy among industry experts as to whether the “A” should stand for assess or for analysis. Yes, these are two separate things. Let’s just say the answer is … both. First, we assess; then, we analyze the results of the assessment(s).

However, before anyone can conduct an assessment, someone in the organization has identified a need. It might be a business need, performance expectation, or a behavior change. 

  • Business needs can cover anything from a new project offering, a software or hardware change, an acquisition or merger, or adopting new business processes.

  • Performance expectations look similar, but have direct impact on the individual employees and the way their work. Some examples may be acquiring a new skill, adding a task, or learning a new process.

  • Behavior change affects the individual employee, but it is specific to the emotions and attitude they bring to the work. Some examples may be a change management intervention due to merger or acquisition, a substandard individual performance due to lack of skill or knowledge, or new sales training for a product launch.

The needs assessment comes in many forms, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. The rule of thumb is that the larger the project and number of people affected, the broader and more in depth the needs assessment must be. Think about using everything from new and past surveys to alternative ways of ferreting out what is needed most. Do whatever works to curate information. For example, you can use focus group(s), post a request for info at the time clock or in the break room, offer a suggestion box (physical box or online form), observe people doing the work, have one-on-one interviews, or ask for testimonials. The key is to get creative, devote some time, and then be sure to listen and observe what people have to say.

Needs analysis, on the other hand, is the report crafted from the outcomes of the needs assessment. This report should include: 

  • diagram of the entire process

  • expected outcomes and “what success looks like” statement(s)

  • outline of the design and learning plan*

  • proposed timeline for completion

  • financial information and budget provided by the stakeholder(s), detailing how the budget breaks down

  • staffing breakdown and detail of additional needs

  • explanation of the learner population, meaning job group(s), performance metrics, and other relevant data.

D Is for Design
More accurately, it’s for the design and learning plan. This is the time to shine. Here are a few tips for success:

  • Be as detailed as you need to be, based on the audience receiving the information.

  • Don’t assume that everyone knows learning and training lingo.

  • Use business wording to convey key points to stakeholders.

  • Be clear and concise, but also thorough.

  • Include the “what” information, not necessarily the “how” information. This means that the stakeholder(s) don’t necessarily need to know that the instructional designers will use ABC authoring tool to complete the work. Most of the time, they just care that the work is done, on time and on budget.

  • Include the design document with all proposed design elements, such as font(s), image type, color palette, multimedia elements, logo(s), and so forth.

  • Avoid including mockups and sample ideas if you can. These get locked into peoples’ brains and it is difficult to unlock them later.

  • Provide the method(s) for delivering the content.

  • Include relevant learner data; for example, the number of people to receive the learning content.

  • Present the pilot and implementation details.

  • Provide an evaluation and feedback plan, including the method for collecting the information, distributing it, and any follow-up actions.

  • Cover any potential plans for future iterations.

D Is Also for Development Process
Now it’s time to put those skills to work. This is the “build” phase. This is all about the content, the slide decks, the handouts—whatever is laid out in the design and learning plan. This is also the time to employ SAM, LEAN, or Agile to move the development through to completion.

I Is for Implement
First, it’s my experience that running a pilot is a highly underrated recipe for success. I’ve found that rushing to the finish line often has a way of derailing project a success. So my best advice here is to take your time and pilot your programs, if you can. In fact, large projects need to have one (or more) pilots built into the overall learning plan. Really. One strategy is to break the project into smaller projects. After all, wouldn’t it be easier to “fail” small and find ways to improve?

Implement also means whatever is relevant to the project. In other words, launch the suite of e-learning courses, conduct the classroom session(s), distribute the job aids, and so on.

E Is for Evaluate
In my opinion, it is more correct to say, “Evaluate to iterate.” Feedback is vital for several reasons, especially for providing the basis for improving the content at a designated—and agreed on—time. Here are some guidelines: 

  • Plan the evaluation phase at the same time you are crafting the design and learning plan. In other words, evaluation is part of the design.

  • Use the stated and agreed learning/performance/business/behavior objectives as the basis for crafting the questions and items in the evaluation.

  • Evaluations can be paper and pencil, launched from within the LMS or other internal system, and generated from a tool like SurveyMonkey.com.

  • Begin gathering feedback concurrent to the implementation phase—both formally and informally. All feedback is relevant and valid–even if it hurts to receive it. It is best not to react or take a defensive posture. Instead, ask more questions. Plan the appropriate course of action for the appropriate time, accordingly. Essentially, formal evaluation methods are surveys that result from having completed an e-learning course or classroom session. For informal evaluations, plan to circle back with subject matter experts, learners in the pilot, leaders, and managers to get an idea of what is working and what is not. Whether face-to-face or online, be sure to take good notes and verify any details.

Then, use the information gathered in the evaluation phase to plan for the next version (or iteration) of the learning content.

In Conclusion

That’s pretty much the whole of it. ADDIE always informs our work. It is the framework upon which we formulate our plans, ask the questions, base our decisions, and more. When ADDIE is involved from the beginning of the project and consulted along the way, there will be few (if any) surprises or epic fails challenging the overall success of the learning project. 

Originally published by ATD https://www.td.org/insights/why-addie-still-mattersand-always-will