October 13, 2020

The SAM (Successive Approximation Model) Approach to eLearning

By: ELM Learning

The SAM Model in eLearning

Conventional wisdom (and some instructional design models) might promise you that slow and steady is the way to win. But for some eLearning situations, fast and furious development can lead to an even bigger win.

The SAM Model: Fast and Furious Instructional Design

The successive approximation model, or SAM, method of development is the preferred instructional design methodology for rapid development. 


Take note of the word “approximation”. That’s exactly what the first prototype is likely to be—an approximation of the final cut. Think of the successive approximation model as an instructional design method that utilizes small, quick steps to the goal, allowing for a quick pivot if needed.  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. rather than one big leap. It relies on tight timelines and quick turnaround as a catalyst for fast and furious design. With SAM, it’s OK to trip up and make mistakes, as long as it results in quick turnarounds and an overall better result. As one of of its benefits, SAM-based design invites more collaboration because creators are less dedicated to their solution and more dedicated to finding the right solution.If one option doesn’t work, no big deal: try something else.  

Failing Fast and Test Driving Solutions

Whereas traditional developmental models might focus more on slowly perfecting one solution (and only bringing that one perfectly curated solution to the table), the SAM model capitalizes on deadlines as motivation and creative catalysts. While it might be uncomfortable at first, the freedom to fail fast, test solutions, and learn as you go can result in radically innovative outcomes. 


Rather than thinking of the SAM model as a straight line, consider it a fluid process. Because it moves faster than, say, the ADDIE model of instructional design, it’s easier to pivot when you receive new data and adapt to the latest information. And, because you’ve theoretically spent less time perfecting one solution, SAM is a more flexible approach to development and can even result in a handful of personalized pathways. 

Pivoting Along the Way

In the SAM method of development, the actual development drives the data. Instead of trying to perfect the initial iteration, SAM eLearning development allows quick solutions that can be tested and challenged until reaching the finish line. In fact, a good SAM designer can tell you that the 2nd, 3rd, or even 10th iteration often takes more time than the first attempt. With new, real-time data points and analysis, designers can perfectly tailor the user experience to the learner. 


The SAM model of instructional design helps designers see that their initial proposal can be shaped, molded, and sometimes scrapped altogether. Failing is OK, especially when you fail forward to a better solution. This makes it much easier to go back to the drawing board when something isn’t working. With the SAM approach, you’ll see less dedication to specific ideas and more of an inclination to real solutions, mined from current data, collaboration, and the reality of a tight deadline.

Using the Right Driver

The SAM model isn’t for everyone. Some designers are uncomfortable with the lack of structure and prefer to start a project with a solution that already seems complete. With the SAM model, there has to be an acceptance that sometimes, even well-planned solutions fail and some managers struggle with such a flexible approach. Luckily, if you haven’t spent all of your time and effort on just one solution, it’s easier to recognize when something isn’t working or when something else could work better. 


At first glance, the SAM model may seem rushed or sloppy. However, a continuous approach to eLearning design could result in precise success. The successive approximation model could be the best way to light a fire under designers and reignite creativity to speed toward a big win.

Categories: Instructional Design