Iterative Design Models: How to Improve ADDIE the Agile Way

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The ADDIE design model represents the gold standard for most learning and development (L&D) practitioners. It was originally invented by Florida State University in for the military in 1975.

While there are many other design methodologies to choose from, there is no arguing that there is little evidence to prove that skipping any of the five phases of ADDIE will have any significant impact on training results:

  • Assessment
  • Design
  • Development
  • Implementation
  • Evaluation phases

Instructional designers (ID) are very aware of these steps. In fact, it is precisely because of the rigidity and time constraints of the five stages of learning development that is fueling a growing desire to find greener grass elsewhere.

ADDIE was not designed to be quick or portable. It is more concerned with being thorough and detailed. So, with an ever-increasing need for training teams to accomplish more with less, rapid development strategies are often at odds with the more linear, fixed path processes like ADDIE.

Today, Agile is becoming more accepted in the learning industry because of its rapid iterative cycles of design and evaluation that offer a more flexible and collaborative approach. This creates a practical framework for adapting to change and delivering the content learners need most.

That is why, despite sharing the same five stages with ADDIE, Agile is altogether a very different way of managing learning projects.

There is a growing controversy among industry experts about whether or not the L&D industry as a whole should renounce ADDIE in favor of a new standard.

In this week's edition of Insider Training, Megan Torrance, the Founder, and CEO of TorranceLearning, joins us to share her thoughts on why we should not abandon ADDIE but leverage Agile principles to modify the process.

This will allow projects to be implemented in an iterative and agile way. It will also allow learning development teams to complete much of the evaluation phase before implementing a final product.

A rising star in the L&D industry, Megan is also the author of three books, including, Agile for Instructional Designers.

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Speaker: Megan Torrance, CEO and Founder of TorranceLearning

Modifying ADDIE for Agile

Here we have this model, this ADDIE model. In the ADDIE model, I'm not evaluating to know if it was any good until the end.

This is designed in a world where I’m doing all my thinking up front in that analysis and design phase. The thinking being that if I've thought everything through, I mitigate the risk of change.

Except we all know that change happens all the time, even midway through development, even midway through the implementation.

What's more, often, in a model shape like this, I am implementing something I have not yet tested to see if it will work. That is a little bit scary.

You can never think everything through. There's always something.

And yet we tend to go about the world or people, humans, tend to go about the world thinking that we can think of everything.

It's Never Too Early to Plan Your Project

Here's the thing, the first day of your project is the worst day to plan what it's going to look like. And that's very difficult. Yet we need to.

Planning is important. Planning is more important than the plan itself. And yet we know change is going to happen.

Yet, we want to make sure that we are not simply accepting every single squirrel that runs across our path into our project because that's highly disruptive.

Oh, by the way, what we didn't mention when we were talking about what makes delivering our projects on time, within budget, and meeting the needs so difficult?

Sometimes it's us! Sometimes we're coming up with brilliant ideas that might risk taking us way off track, but they're brilliant ideas.

Redrawing the ADDIE Model

We need ways in which we can evaluate, as a team, with our business sponsors, whether a particular change is in alignment with our goals and our learners.

What we're trying to accomplish is just really cool, or additional, or excessive. Here's how I draw the ADDIE model. I believe in a little bit of analysis design and development.

But I'm very quickly going to get out an implementation and an evaluation – very early in my timeline. We rarely have enough time to analyze, but guess what?

This implementation and evaluation are at the same position as the analysis. That's another opportunity for analysis.

Managing an Iterative Review Process

But when we put out our early iterations of a project...who do you get to review your early iterations of a project?

Your subject matter experts (SMEs) are excellent for telling you:

  • "Are you accurate?”
  • “Have you included it all?"

Your sponsors and stakeholders are going to make sure that it's directionally sound.

Your fellow instructional designers and the randos are going to help you catch what you missed and make sure you've got it right.

Not a single one of those people (SMEs, stakeholders, instructional designers) is actually on the hook for using what you just created to do their jobs better.

Except, not a single one of those people actually is on the hook for using what you just created to do their jobs better. That's why I'm a huge proponent of having those actual learners’ as part of your early iteration reviews.

If absolutely the ADDIE process did happen multiple times along the way, it might look something like this – where I continue iterating until I run out of time, or budget, or things worth fixing.

Megan Torrance

Megan Torrance

Megan Torrance is CEO and founder of TorranceLearning, which helps organizations connect learning strategy to design, development, data, and, ultimately, performance. She has more than 25 years of experience in learning design, deployment, and consulting. Megan is the author of Agile for Instructional Designers, The Quick Guide to LLAMA, and Making Sense of xAPI.
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