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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, always looking for something new and better. There’s the agile crowd that 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ADDIE may be an old instructional design model, but it isn’t outdated.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, and ultimately, they 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 considerable 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 lead to train brain.

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

Why? Agile is about pleasing an audience, and software can be rated nicely with an NPS score, whereas training is about creating change 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.

For instructional content, a more thorough analysis is needed, and agile processes 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 you don’t use it correctly. It’s vulnerable to poor practitioners who skip steps or, worse, do the D and I only. If you’re unfamiliar with ADDIE or need a brush-up, we’ve got you covered.


As a quick refresher, ADDIE stands for Analyze (A), Design (D), Develop (D), Implement (I), and finally Evaluate (E). What goes into each step is not entirely well-defined, but that’s part of its beauty. 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. Florida State University developed ADDIE for the United States military 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 precisely 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. Getting to know the problem, desired outcome, audience, and more is essential.

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. That confuses things since it’s the same name but not the same process.

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

Everyone seems anxious to get to development. Everyone wants to jump into creating 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 touch the software until you’ve spent most of the time in the A and D phases. For a project that takes three weeks to develop, we would likely 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 or be published, and nobody would use it.

Then, finally, there are evaluations, ensuring 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 part of each of the other steps. The whole process even loops back on itself. 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 slightly 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. In contrast, others do it in the development phase but go much 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 you don’t skip other planning steps and there are reviews along the way. It’s never a good idea to surprise your business partners.

ADDIE is an easy and fantastic process that ensures you don’t skip the necessary steps. No new model we’re familiar with makes any necessary change to ADDIE or 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. It works well for ensuring 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.

Nobody builds a building without thorough plans that undergo a comprehensive process, which ensures proper outcomes. We think ADDIE is pretty awesome, and I’d love to tell you why.

Why ADDIE Is Pretty Awesome

No contractor will build a building without plans. They used to do that, and the outcomes were pretty bad. Walls constructed by two groups didn’t line up, and finished construction projects were pieced together and looked terrible. Then, some things were not architecturally sound and fell 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 for every project. That makes it easier to know where to start, how to start, and what you need to do next. It’s as simple as returning to your ADDIE knowledge 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 impressive accomplishment for creating instruction that can be complex and potentially make a significant impact if done right.

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

  • Evidence-based: No process is good if it’s just pulled from thin air (we were going to say something else, not work-appropriate). ADDIE has a long history, originating in the United States military and then developing 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. If something goes wrong, 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 its creation. Each step can be a process in itself and part of the more extensive process. Each step builds on the others, and any of them can be revised as many times as necessary.

For all these reasons, ADDIE is pretty awesome in our eyes. It is flexible and comprehensive and works well to create instructional content.

But there will always be detractors, even of the most widely accepted things (which isn’t always a good or bad thing). 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 why do some feel it’s no longer helpful?

Criticism Of ADDIE

You regularly hear some common criticism about 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 jump right into development.

This is a huge mistake because it can easily cause you to waste time creating the wrong type of training, 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 goes back to people thinking it’s not iterative or 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; it’s highly flexible and can be used to design excellent instructional solutions that solve problems.
  • Stifle Creativity: If you feel it’s stifling your creativity, you’re using it wrong, and maybe more significant issues are going on. It’s a framework, a model, which doesn’t end creative freedom. You can do a project within the ADDIE framework in a million different ways.
  • 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 give you the idea. ADDIE is widely criticized. People will always be gunning for it since it’s the most widely used and popular.

It’s a fantastic model as long as you use it right. Let’s look at the most common way it’s misused today.

Don’t Skip A and D

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

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, when you skip the A and D, instruction will be left to DIE. However, 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 are skipped in some other models. Either that or no other model is used, and instructional designers jump right to development to get something out there fast. That makes working with content extremely hard because you’ve put the cart before the horse. It’s hard to look at content critically if you’re too worried about how it 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. If you are unclear 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 will be if needed.

Analysis answer what you are trying to help employees do.

You can’t create instruction without knowing what people already know, their situation, the desired outcome, and more. The analysis step is essential for figuring this out and ensuring you’re on the right path.

It’s like an architect gathering all the necessary information before designing a blueprint. If they don’t collect that information, they’re designing for themselves, which means the architect completely ignores the needs of those who will use 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, you’ll likely create something that doesn’t even meet user needs. If it was to save time, then congratulations, ineffective training wasted much more time than could ever be saved by skipping analysis.

D is for Design: Plan Your Attack

This is another step you can’t skip. It would be like an architect not creating blueprints. So, if you skip analysis and design, 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. 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 time creating something likely 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, it will likely waste ‘ timeemployees’ time, too. Think about how much employee time could be wasted. Just as one of our instructional projects saves employees hundreds of hours yearly, it can go the other way and waste thousands of hours yearly.

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 aren’t practical for creating effective employee training with tangible outcomes. Let’s take a quick look at ADDIE alternatives.

Alternatives To ADDIE

Listing every potential alternative to ADDIE is impossible 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 up on 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 say 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 continues, and most are just a subset of ADDIE. 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. Whatever you do within each step is up for debate to a certain extent as long as you stay within the larger framework. 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.

It would be best if you didn’t use any model besides ADDIE because otherwise, you’re using something created for someone else, not your organization. Please don’t 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 and 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 envisioned initially all those years back in 1975.

Rockin’ ADDIE since 2009


Sometimes, people create the learning and performance objectives in the analysis phase, and occasionally, 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 elsewhere. Our reason is that it’s good to create a plan (the storyboard) to deliver to a developer if those steps are separate.

Even if the person doing design and development aren’t separated, doing a storyboard is still beneficial. It’s a low-investment method to get on the 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 the content.

If the developer is the designer, there’s no strong case for dividing any processes. It’s all one big process that flows together and circles around. As long as each process step is performed wholly and sufficiently, 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 already completely planned.

Development used to be challenging and take 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 a project’s needs. It may also change over time as we figure out better working methods. Nothing is written in stone; life and training are about continuous improvement. That’s why we will continue to revise 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 as intended, it’s a great process that covers everything you need to create excellent 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 exceptional 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 use a good process based on ADDIE, you’ll end up with well-planned and well-designed training programs that accomplish precisely what they need. That means behavior change or job support, leading to more effective and happier employees.

Who could be against that?

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

If you want 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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