Iterative Design Models: ADDIE vs SAM

Whipping up a boring corporate learning or training session into a dazzling & engaging eLearning experience has huge, obvious benefits. The question is – what model best fits your team? Which iterative design model – ADDIE or SAM – is best suited for your module or session and can ensure that your employees and learners retain all of the subject matter?  In order to understand the models and choose what fits your eLearning program, we have to explain the origin and differences in the age old ADDIE vs SAM debate.

The Iterative Process of Addie vs SAM

Merriam-Webster defines iteration as “a procedure in which repetition of a sequence of operations yields results successively closer to the desired result.” Mind numbing! You might be thinking, “bane of the instructional designer’s existence” is a more accurate definition; the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Without an iterative design process, we’d have half-baked learning modules more reflective of original intent than the polished product. ADDIE vs SAM is an interesting debate, as they represent two very different models for designing eLearning, and serve to highlight how the iterative process differs. Here they are below:

If you’re ready to get started with a project, tell us about it here

The ADDIE Model (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation) 

The standard ADDIE model (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation) incorporates a succession of iterative stages. Each phase offers an opportunity for self-correction (read perfection) before moving to the next phase.

The team carefully considers, debates and implements each step in the ADDIE process, and managers often sign off one step at a time. It’s like writing and editing the first draft of a book, one chapter at a time, repeatedly, before you move on to writing the next chapter if you ever do. If reading that sentence wore you out, then you understand the ADDIE concept. (Cue Ben Stein for narration.)

Project goals change, which can throw the entire project all the way back to the analysis phase, at which point, someone is going to insist on switching to the SAM model. ADDIE is a perfectionist’s dream iterative model, but that perfectionism can bust the development and implementation calendar.

The SAM Model (Successive Approximation Model)

If you can describe ADDIE as “ready, aim, aim, aim, fire,” then SAM, short for Successive Approximation Model, is “ready, fire, aim.” If you fly by the seat of your pants and think well on your feet, you’ll love this deadline-driven process. SAM is a rapid development model that uses a continuous iterative design process throughout the lifecycle of development rather than the “one step at a time in three-quarter time” model.

Development often begins concurrently with analysis and design. Think of your eLearning module as a Swiss cheese framework with holes you’ll fill in with actual content each time others analyze and design. All that ongoing iteration is you conforming to everyone else’s changes.

Because the SAM model doesn’t include buy-in at each stage, the iterative design process flows fast and furiously, but there are risks that once the process is complete, it could mean, “back to the drawing board” for a total revamp. The key to surviving SAM is to understand that nothing is carved in stone and that time stands still for no one.