Collaboration / Design / Education / Instructional Design / Research

Easy Instructional Design Thinking: The Five Steps of ADDIE at a Glance

Building in Downtown Mountain View

Building in Downtown Mountain View

The last six weeks I’ve spent in the Silicon Valley have included a great deal of market research, examining which education companies are really innovating and growing.  I’m a bit hesitant to say it, but I’ve spent more time lately reading-up-on and evaluating tools than development processes.   Some amazingly-slick tool, app or platform is coming out.  It has all the latest bells, whistles, and CSS3 drop-shadows. But it’s clunky, has confusing keywords, and there are almost no learning resources available to help you figure out how to use it.

Rather than point figures at platforms and apps that I think have lost their way, it’s a better idea to look back at the basics of instructional design and how it relates to both learning content development and yes, product development.  I will explain the most common form of instructional design, one I see everywhere: ADDIE (add-ee).

ADDIE is both loved and hated by Instructional Designers (IDs), but it’s hard to ignore the simple approach to developing instruction.  If you can understand what each step of the ADDIE process describes, many more concepts and theories of instruction will fall into place.  And in its most general form, ADDIE can be applied to just about any “making” or creative process.  Keep in mind that many IDs choose to use a more flexible ADDIE model (Dick and Carey comes to mind), allowing for iteration at the various steps as opposed to requiring a full-cycle with each improvement to whatever it is you’re making.  Here it goes.  ADDIE basics.


(Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate)

1. Analyze

As with most things, you must first figure out what it is you’re setting out to do.  This step usually involves a needs analysis, an examination of the need that you’re aiming to meet through instruction.  What resources are available to you (time, financial constraints, human resources, etc)?  What is the current situation and where does it need to be taken?  In the case of designing instruction, skills (or a lack of them) is the focus.  The main point of the Analyze step is to discover the current situation and identify the desired goal.

2. Design

This step involved breaking down (or “chunking”) the goal into a set of major objectives or milestones, each usually containing a set of smaller objectives within.  Each of the small objectives will lead to major objectives, the sum of these then leading to the goal identified by the Subject Matter Expert (SME) in the Analyze step.  Think of a tree with many roots, all with smaller sections connecting at larger nodes, each of those eventually intersecting and meeting at the base of the tree.  This also lends to modularity/granularity in instruction, allowing for the elimination or substitution of certain parts without the entire system falling to pieces.  The assessments or milestones are also drawn out here, defining how the effectiveness of the instruction will be checked.

3. Develop

Here the IDs lay out the learning materials, content and activities.  Prototypes and wireframes of the learning materials, which are really just vehicles to transmit the content, are outlined and tested with small target groups.  Many revisions occur within this step based on feedback from the prototype testing.  The teacher-training materials are also developed here, which is sadly one of the more overlooked parts of instruction development.  The teachers on the ground (for which I have the upmost respect) benefit greatly from thorough yet concise “this is how you can reach your learners” aids and guides.

4. Implement

This is the delivery and support step.  The instruction has been developed, worked over, aligned and realigned to meet the needs of the target population.  The materials are handed over to the instructors and/or made accessible (learning management system, platform, etc).  Cross your fingers and hope all the work you put into the instruction design is going to translate into effective and efficient delivery of the content.  Well, there really shouldn’t be a whole lot of finger crossing if the Development step was thorough, but it never hurts 😉

5. Evaluate

So, how did it go?  You won’t really know until this step.  Using formative evaluation (what did the learners think?) and summative evaluation (how did the learners actually perform based on the instruction?), IDs develop a plan for revisions to the instruction.  As new content is collected, expanding the breadth and depth of the subject that can be covered in, IDs lay out a maintenance plan that will grow the course and adapt it to the new resources and factors.

Tree roots in a forest

Image CC Licensed by Gordon M. Robertson

A Reliable Model, But Not the End-All Solution

As I mentioned before, this is a widely-accepted model for the development of instruction.  In it’s most rigid form it can be rather time-consuming (and unnecessarily redundant) to follow, but ADDIE serves as a great way to understand the development of instruction.  I’m seeing a great opportunity for instructional design to influence the development of not only new education-focused tools, but also the training materials used to support them.  From my experience, educators and product developers both appreciate brevity, and keeping a model like ADDIE in mind can streamline the approach of developing instructional materials and learning products.

Personally, I’m glad I went back to the books and re-examined the tried and true ADDIE model.  I haven’t yet figure out where traditional instructional design and the development of new technology tools will intersect in a finite location, but I’m seeing more common themes between them the more I look.  For more information about ADDIE as well as more dynamic, flexible ID models, check out the following reads:


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