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ADDIE Isn’t So Bad Afterall, As Long As You Use It Right

I saw something in this regard on LinkedIn recently and it’s completely valid:

If you skip the A and D then instruction will be left to DIE.

Someone (please let us know if you know who coined the saying.)

Whoever said that is entirely right. But unfortunately, it’s becoming more common than ever to skip analysis and design or use an alternate but lesser model. The A and D contain essential steps that instructional designers must perform to create effective instruction.

Then there’s the shiny object crowd who’s always looking for something new and better. There’s the agile crowd who wants to jump right in, and then there are those who think ADDIE can’t be iterative (it can and is).

ADDIE may be an old instructional design model, but it isn’t outdated. It’s just as relevant and has kept up with the times better than any other model. It’s specific yet versatile, iterative by nature, and helps make it easier to create quality instructional content.

If you’re an instructional designer thinking of using an alternative model or think ADDIE is dated, think again. Most other models are just shiny objects but in the end, won’t provide the same level of success as ADDIE can. That is if you use ADDIE to its full potential.

Think ADDIE is dated and needs to be replaced? Think again. It’s still the best instructional design model available.

If an instructional design model is too basic or vague and has too few steps then there’s a huge risk of producing instruction that misses the mark. That’s never an issue with ADDIE if you use it as it’s supposed to be used, an iterative process that helps you get to the right needs (analysis) and develop something that meets performance objectives as long as you steer clear of learning objectives.

Otherwise, you may end up with the wrong type of instruction or worse, content overload which will definitely lead to train brain.

ADDIE isn’t agile and it never will be, but that may be for the best. The agile approach is great for software development and is used regularly in project management for software. But, it’s not fit for every type of project, including creating instructional content. In fact, even claimed agile instructional design isn’t really agile, and for good reason.

Why? Agile is all about pleasing an audience and software can be rated nicely with an NPS score whereas training is about creating change and based on the science of learning and can’t be rated with an NPS score. They’re two completely different beasts with two very different goals.

A more thorough analysis is needed for instructional content and agile processes simply don’t work as a replacement even though you can use some elements of agile in a general sense.

But, even ADDIE won’t work well if it’s not used right. It’s vulnerable to poor practitioners, skipping steps, or worse, just doing the D and I only. If you’re not too familiar with ADDIE or need a brush-up, we got you covered.


As a quick refresher, ADDIE stands for Analyze (A), Design (D), Develop (D), Implement (I), and finally Evaluate (E). It’s not completely well-defined exactly what goes into each step but that’s part of the beauty of it. It’s a framework that keeps things on track and organized, without being too rigid.

While the roots of ADDIE come from just after World War 2 from the US military, its current form comes more recently if you consider 1975 recent. ADDIE was developed by Florida State University for the United States military and is based on their IPISD model which appears to have the ADDIC acronym but is not referred to as such by the authors. It’s only referred to as IPISD.

There’s no well-defined, precise, definitive approach to exactly what happens in each step, but overall it does have a structure that you shouldn’t (for good reason) vary from. Any model that encourages skipping analysis is a poor model. It’s an essential step in getting to know the problem, desired outcome, audience, and more.

Analysis and Design are essential for any successful instructional content. Without them, a positive outcome cannot be achieved

Also, there’s no way to jump past design. And no, design is not in the sense of graphic design where you’re just making something pretty. I think that confuses things a bit since it’s the same name, but it’s not the same process.

Design in the sense of ADDIE is more like designing a building. It’s all about creating the plan and approach including creating learning/performance objectives, a high-level outline, and then a very basic level storyboard. We’re not talking about a full visual storyboard with every detail (but you can if you want!), we’re talking MAYBE stick people but more likely just text describing what’s on each screen.

Development is what seems to be the thing everyone’s anxious to get to. That’s what everyone wants to jump right into and put something in Storyline or Rise (if that’s what you use). That’s a big mistake and a recipe for poor instructional outcomes.

It’s best not to even touch the software unit you spend the majority of time in the A and D phases. For a project that takes three weeks to develop, we likely would spend twice or even three times that time in the A and D phases.

Implementation is another step that everyone performs, like development. But that’s only because you have to. Otherwise, your content wouldn’t get final reviews, be published, or be used by anybody.

Then finally there are evaluations, making sure you gather feedback, review the feedback, and make any needed adjustments. But, this stage of the ADDIE process (remember it’s iterative) can also be used after or during each of the other steps.

The origin of the process displays the evaluation steps (or control) as being part of each of the other steps. And the whole process loops back on itself even. You can see the ADDIE process laid out as an iterative process below.

An iterative representation of the ADDIE process.
ADDIE Model of Design. (2012, April 18). In Wikimedia Commons

Then there’s the fact that ADDIE is a little bit different for every person. An excellent example of how it varies from person to person and within organizations is the storyboarding process. Some complete the storyboard process in the design phase and the storyboard is a relatively low investment while others do it in the development phase but go a lot further with nearly a full course development.

If you want to check out a more detailed map of how we use ADDIE, check out our version of ADDIE on our resources page.

While we’re not a fan of going too far too fast, for some it may work well as long as other planning steps are not skipped and there are reviews along the way. It’s never a good idea to surprise your business partners.

ADDIE is an easy and amazing process that ensures you don’t skip important steps. There’s not a single new model we’re familiar with that provides any necessary change to ADDIE that adds any value.

So, should you use ADDIE or is another model truly better for you?

To ADDIE Or Not To ADDIE, That Is The Question

You have options for what instructional design model you use. In most ID programs you learn about ADDIE. Some say that’s great for an educational setting but not so much for corporate instructional design. That’s simply not true. It’s a versatile system that works in both settings.

We create instructional content, mostly digital training solutions, for the corporate world. That’s all we do and we exclusively use the ADDIE process when doing this. It works well for making sure you do a proper needs analysis and thorough planning for the project as long as you have the process set up well within the framework.

No building is built without thorough plans that go through a thorough process. The process is built to ensure proper outcomes are achieved. We think ADDIE is pretty awesome and I’d love to tell you why.

Why ADDIE Is Pretty Awesome

No contractor is going to build a building without plans. They used to do that and the outcomes were pretty bad. Walls built by two different groups didn’t line up and finished construction projects were pieced together and looked bad. And then some things are not architecturally sound and simply fall apart.

Plans don’t always guarantee success, but there’s a much better chance of success than not using any plans. These are some of the things we think are pretty awesome about ADDIE:

  • Structure: It’s nice to have a structured process that can be used for every project. That makes it easier to know where to start, how to start, and what you need to do next. It’s always as simple as going back to your knowledge of ADDIE and jumping into the next step.
  • Repeatable: The process isn’t just structured, it’s repeatable both in the project and project to project. It always remains the same even though the requirements change. It introduces a semblance of normalcy and stability to an otherwise overwhelming and unpredictable process.
  • Flexible: The structure of ADDIE is written in stone, but it’s also vague enough to be flexible. So, it’s both structured but vaguely enough to be flexible. That’s a pretty amazing accomplishment for creating instruction that can be complex and potentially make a huge impact if done right.

ADDIE is established, evidence-based, iterative, repeatable, structured, and best of all, flexible.

  • Evidence-based: No process is a good process if it’s just pulled from thin air (we were going to say something else, not work-appropriate). ADDIE has a long history of first originating in the United States military and then it was developed from real-world evidence and practice.
  • Established: It’s the gold standard for instructional designers. That means the majority of IDs use it and most understand it. That means if something goes wrong in the process, others can jump in and help and instructional design consultants can help figure out what went wrong.
  • Iterative: This is a big one that some criticize ADDIE for not being but in reality, it is iterative at its core, from the beginning of it being created. Each step can be a process in itself as well as part of the bigger process. Each step builds on the others and any of them can be revised as many times as necessary.

All of these things make ADDIE pretty awesome in our eyes. We find it very flexible, comprehensive, and it works well to create any instructional content.

But there will always be detractors even of the greatest things that are widely accepted. There will never be 100% acceptance of anything and that’s the natural way of life. Maybe someday there will be something better but that’s still not the case.

So what are some of the criticisms of ADDIE and the reasons why some feel it’s no longer useful?

Criticism Of ADDIE

There is some common criticism you hear regularly of why other models have been created or why some don’t use them anymore. Some reasons why it’s not used aren’t always criticism, though. Often it simply comes down to time to complete a project. To save time, some instructional designers simply jump right into development.

This is a huge mistake because it can easily cause you to waste time creating the wrong type of training, end up leading to poor work with the wrong focus, or worse, wasting thousands of hours of employees’ time with a poorly thought-through solution that isn’t even that helpful.

But, what is ADDIE often criticized for?

  • Not Iterative: We already covered that ADDIE is iterative. Many don’t understand that it is iterative, very iterative. It’s one giant circle if you know the real ADDIE, none of these fake ADDIEs.
  • Waterfall not Agile: It’s not a waterfall method since I’ve never seen a waterfall that can circle back around. But it isn’t agile which is fine because agile isn’t the best for designing instruction anyway.
  • Too Time-Consuming: Yes, it is time-consuming to create good instruction. The whole point is to create something effective, not just pretty, and making something effective takes time and effort. Creating something effective is time-consuming and there’s not always a way to prevent that.
  • Inflexible: This sort of goes back to people thinking it’s not iterative and it’s not agile. It isn’t agile (at least not the real agile as is practiced in software development), which is great, but it is definitely iterative. So, it’s not inflexible at all, it’s extremely flexible and can be used to design amazing instructional solutions that solve problems.
  • Stifle Creativity: If you feel it’s stifling your creativity, you’re using it wrong and maybe there are bigger issues going on. It’s a framework, a model, and that doesn’t end creative freedom whatsoever. There are a million different ways you can do a project within the ADDIE framework.
  • Outdated: It’s old but it’s not outdated. Most newer processes are based on ADDIE anyway with changes that aren’t necessary because they’re already inherently a part of ADDIE. You know, things like iterations within the process. They’re already there so nobody else needs to add them, they just need to learn more about ADDIE.

The list could go on, but that’s enough to get the idea. There is plenty of criticism of ADDIE. Being that it’s the most widely used and most popular, people will always be gunning for it.

It’s an amazing model as long as you use it right. Let’s take a look at the most common way it’s being used incorrectly today.

Don’t Skip A and D

We see into the work of many L&D departments and sometimes it’s not pretty. The process has been bastardized to the point where it’s not ADDIE and there is no real structure or standards operating procedure (SOP). While it’s common to look for instructional designers with knowledge of ADDIE, when it comes to actually practicing what you preach, that’s a different story.

So, as we mentioned at the beginning of this article when you skip the A and D, then instruction will be left to DIE. That means effective performance changes, not simply instruction. Instruction without performance change should be left to DIE anyway.

One of the best ways to make ADDIE fail is to skip the A and D steps.

These are two steps of ADDIE that get skipped in some other models. That or no other model is used and instructional designers simply jump right to development to get something out there fast. That makes it extremely hard to work with content because you’ve put the cart before the horse. It’s hard to look at content critically if you’re too worried about how content will look.

That’s how you end up with an overwhelming course aiming to solve the wrong goals and with the wrong content.

You must perform the A and D steps of ADDIE. In case you are somewhat hazy about what they are and their importance, read on.

A Is For Analysis: Know Your Audience

You can’t create instructional content without knowing your audience. The analysis uncovers some of the most important things about why and who you’re building training for. This is where you do a needs analysis. That will tell you if you even need training and what the requirements of it will be if needed.

Analysis answer what you are trying to help employees do.

You can’t create instruction if you don’t know what people already know, what their situation is, what the outcome needs to be, and more. The analysis step is essential to figure this all out and make sure you’re on the right path.

It’s like an architect gathering all the information they need before designing a blueprint. If they don’t gather that information then they’re designing for themselves. That means they’re completely ignoring all the needs of the people using what they create.

Don’t ignore everyone else and design instructions for you. It’s not about you, it’s about employees.

If you skip analysis then you’ll likely create something that doesn’t even meet user needs. If it was to save time then congratulations, ineffective training wasted a whole lot more time than could ever be saved by skipping analysis.

D is for Design: Plan Your Attack

This is also another one you simply can’t skip. This would be like skipping having an architect create blueprints. So, if you skip analysis and design then you’re jumping right to building a building with nothing in hand.

That would be a huge mess and a waste of time!

With instruction, skipping the design process risks creating instruction that is way too long, disorganized, and doesn’t meet the goals at all. The role of an instructional designer is to design instruction, not make the subject matter expert’s content look pretty.

If someone skips design to save time, they just wasted a whole bunch of time creating something likely to be useless in the long run. It may look pretty but that’s not what we’re here to do.

The worst part? If something was created without the design process then it will likely waste the time of employees too. Think about how much employee’s time could be wasted. Just as one of our instructional projects saves employees hundreds of hours every year, it can go the other way and waste thousands of hours every year.

Good training relies on well-done analysis and design that isn’t lumped into one poorly defined process. When we build custom software training solutions, we would never imagine skipping either of these steps. The project is better not done at all than skipping these steps.

We’d be doing a disservice to our clients, their employees, and ourselves. While the creation of training might go quicker, the outcomes would more than erase those gains.

There are alternatives to ADDIE, but most of them just aren’t practical for creating effective training that has real outcomes for employees. Let’s take a quick look at ADDIE alternatives.

Alternatives To ADDIE

It’s impossible to list every potential alternative to ADDIE since there are dozens. Many are always trying to replace ADDIE too simply trying to be the one behind the next big model. So far those attempts have been fruitless in catching on at a massive scale. One model that has caught on more than others is the successive approximation model (SAM) from Allen Interaction. If you dig into it, it looks an awful lot like ADDIE. We’d go as far as saying that SAM is simply Allen Interactions’ approach to ADDIE but with a much weaker analysis and design phase.

Here are some of the common attempted alternatives to ADDIE:

  • SAM
  • Agile (SCRUM)
  • MPI
  • ARCS
  • 5C Framework

The list goes on and most of them are just a subset of ADDIE anyway. In other words, they’re just an organization’s specific way they use ADDIE, similar to how we’ve broken down our process within ADDIE (see below).

Why You Shouldn’t Use These Models

They’re specific to the organization that created them. Most of them (except Agile) are simply a twist on ADDIE that defines more specifically how an organization uses ADDIE. You have to figure out what works for your organization, and ADDIE is the best starting point for that.

It’s a great high-level model that lets you create something that works for you within a strong framework. As long as you keep to the larger framework, whatever you do within each step is up for debate to a certain extent. That means you may do more in-depth storyboards in the development phase if you have the resources. Or if instructional designers complete the entire project, you might do a basic storyboard in the design phase.

ADDIE alternatives are simply shiny-object syndrome and in many cases too prescriptive.

You shouldn’t use any model besides ADDIE because otherwise, you’re using something that is created for someone else, not your organization. Don’t go get too down in the weeds of a model without making it your own. Models trying to do away with ADDIE do just that, they define too much of the process and remove necessary creative flexibility.

ADDIE provides flexibility, creativity, and a framework that ensures comprehensive instruction. It does it all in a simple framework that you can make your own.

How We ADDIE It Up

We talk the talk and walk the walk. Yes, after working with ADDIE initially and years of trying other models, we return as big believers in the ADDIE process. Of course, we work through the process in our way and we encourage you to find the best way that works for you (as long as you don’t skip anything).

Just like there are many different instructional design models out there, we have a specific way we use ADDIE. As you can see, our version is likely different in some ways than the version you use. It’s probably a bit different than how ADDIE was originally envisioned all those years back in 1975.

Rockin’ ADDIE since 2009


Sometimes people create the learning and performance objectives in the analysis phase, and sometimes the storyboard is done in the development phase. Even though we believe the storyboard should be part of the design phase, there may be a reason for it to be somewhere else. Our reason for that is that it’s good to create a plan (the storyboard) that can be delivered to a developer if those steps are separate.

Even if the person doing design and development aren’t separated, it’s still beneficial to do a storyboard. It’s a low-investment method to get don’t he same page as the SME. It also helps you think about the process and iron out any rough parts while not getting too attached to content yet.

If the developer is the designer then there’s not a strong case for dividing any of the processes out. It’s all one big process that flows together and circles around. As long as each step of the process is performed sufficiently and completely, there’s no reason you can’t get creative with ADDIE.

One thing we will say about the process, though, is that you cannot skip a step. The majority of time should be spent on the front end with analysis and design. Development should be a smaller portion of the project since you’re putting together something that’s already completely planned.

It used to be that development was challenging and took a lot of time but rapid development tools have reduced the time significantly.

Our ADDIE process isn’t written in stone, either. It may change slightly depending on the needs of a project. It may also change over time as we figure out better ways of working. Nothing is ever written in stone, and life is all about continuous improvement. That’s why we will continue to revise as needed and provide updates as needed.

You can always find the most recent version of our ADDIE process on our resources page.

Wrap Up

If there’s one model to use for designing instruction that’s versatile, effective, and easy to tailor to your needs, ADDIE is it. As long as you use it the way it was intended, it’s a great process that covers everything you need to create great training. Just don’t skip the A and D and make your training DIE.

We’re fans of ADDIE and how it allows us to tailor the process to exactly how we use it to create amazing digital training solutions. Even though eLearning is a relatively new approach to instruction, ADDIE still fits the process needed to create good self-paced courses. In a simplified format, it can also be good as a training video creation process and other forms of microlearning.

When you take advantage of a good process based on ADDIE, you’ll end up with well-planned and well-designed training programs that accomplish exactly what they need. That means behavior change or job support that ultimately leads to more effective and happier employees.

Who could be against that?

It doesn’t take a new process or trying to refine an old process. ADDIE is still the best instructional design model that has aged well no matter what naysayers say. Nobody needs a new instructional design process, they just need to use ADDIE to its full capabilities by not skipping any steps and customizing it to fit the project.

If you’re looking to work with a company that knows the process, uses the processes, and creates meaningful and effective training, we’ve got you covered. Schedule a free consultation so we can discuss your project and how we can help your employees maximize the effectiveness of your company’s technology.

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