Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

22 March 2009

Monday Broken ID Series: Process

Clark @ 9:03 AM

Previous Series Post

This is the last formal post in a series of thoughts on some broken areas of ID that I’ve been posting for Mondays.  The intention is to provide insight into many ways much of instructional design fails, and some pointers to avoid the problems. The point is not to say ‘bad designer’, but instead to point out how to do better design.

We’ve been talking about lots of ways instructional design can be wrong, but if that’s the case, the process we’re using must be broken too.  If we’re seeing cookie-cutter instructional design, we must not be starting from the right point, and we must be going about it wrong.

Realize that the difference between really good instructional design, and ordinary or worse, is subtle.  Way too often I’ve had the opportunity to view seemingly well-produced elearning that I’ve been able to dismantle systematically and thoroughly.  The folks were trying to do a good job, and companies had paid good money and thought they got their money’s worth.  But they really hadn’t.

It’d be easy to blame the problems on tight budgets and schedules, but that’s a cop-out.  Good instructional design doesn’t come from big budgets or unlimited timeframes, it comes from knowing what you’re doing.  And it’s not following the processes that are widely promoted and taught.

You know what I’m talking about – the A-word, that five letter epithet – ADDIE.  Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.  A good idea, with good steps, but with bad implementation.  Let me take the radical extreme: we’re better off tossing out the whole thing rather than continue to allow the abominations committed under that banner.

OK, now what am I really talking about?  I was given a chance to look at an organization’s documentation of their design process.  It was full of taxonomies, and process, and all the ID elements.  And it led to boring, bloated content.  If you follow all the procedures, without a deep understanding of the underpinnings that make the elements work, and know what can be finessed based upon the audience, and add the emotional elements that instructional design largely leaves out (with the grateful exception of Keller’s ARCS model).

The problem is that more people are doing design than have sufficient background, as Cammy Bean’s survey noted.  Not that you have to have a degree, but you do have to have the learning background to understand the elements behind the processes.  Folks are asked to become elearning designers and yet haven’t really had the appropriate training.

Blind adherence to ADDIE will, I think, lead to more boring elearning than someone creative taking their best instincts about how to get people to learn.  Again, Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping is a pretty good shortcut that I’ll suggest will lead to better outcomes than ADDIE.

Which isn’t to say that following ADDIE when you know what you’re doing, and have a concern for the emotional and aesthetic side (or a team with same), won’t yield a good result, it will.  And, following ADDIE likely will yield something that’s pretty close to effective, but it’s so likely to be undermined by the lack of engagement, that there’s a severe worry.

And, worse, there’s little in their to ensure that the real need is met, asking the designer to go beyond what the SME and client tells you and ensure that the behavior change is really what’s needed.  The Human Performance Improvement model actually does a better job at that, as far as I can tell.

It’s not hard to fix up the problem.  Start by finding out what significant decision-making change will impact the organization or individual, and work backward from there, as the previous posts have indicated. I don’t mean to bash ADDIE, as it’s conceptually sound from a cognitive perspective, it just doesn’t extend far enough pragmatically in terms of focusing on the right thing, and it errs too much on the side of caution instead of focusing on the learner experience.It’s not clear to me that ADDIE will even advocate a job aid, when that’s all that’s needed (and I’m willing to be wrong).

Our goal is to make meaningful change, and that’s what we need to do.  I hope this series will enable you to do more meaningful design.  There may be more posts, but I’ve exhausted my initial thoughts, so we’ll see how it goes.


  1. Hey, Clark –

    I think it depends on the organization, but where I work the HPT/I model for problem and gap identification along with solution recommendation is in the Analysis phase. If you have some time you might find value in attending our annual HPT conference: http://www.uscghpt.org.

    You raise some really salient points, Clark. It’s uncanny how close your weekly dispatches are to discussions we’ve been having over the past months.

    Recently, I’ve tried to push a new situational process concept. I love patterns and see a lot of potential value in a shared pattern language and field library. The concept I’ve proposed is a mapping between a problem or performance profile and a pattern or selection of patterns that have worked in similar situations. I say situational because no one process shell works in every situation. I’ll describe what I mean below… Hopefully better than I’ve been able to describe to staff ISD’s that respond with ‘uh, wut?’ and blank stares.

    First, I’ll say that the ADDIE model works in every situation if one thinks of it correctly. I think the ADDIE model encases all of the possible phases one could undertake when establishing a solution. However, the model may appear as AD(esign)IE, or AIE. I think we get so wrapped around the DD that we often neglect the other phases.

    If we minimize A, then we miss our opportunity to challenge the assumptions, to collect all of the ‘natures’ and establish an aggregate profile and subordinate profiles that would strengthen the case for the solution. If we ignore A than we’ve missed our chance to provide the best investment and in many cases the right KSA solution (if a KSA solution is even necessary).

    Some place the alignment in the Analysis phase… Alignment is a process, not an event. If we don’t all ride in the same balloon basket then we have no recourse when the SME wants to bring lions and elephants, nor when the customer wants to start shooting holes in the balloon.

    Most organizations tend to almost completely ignore E. Aside from A, E is the most important activity phase. Formative evaluation helps to tune the solution as you go.

    So the ADDIE model isn’t broken. People just don’t use it the way it was intended. We are lazy, I suppose.

    Back to the Profile:Patterns model. I’m sure that what I’m talking about isn’t new. But there are concepts that are not common, and there IS some uncommon pairing of elements.

    Touched on profiles. I think of profiles as a combination of ‘natures’. The nature of the gap, the nature of the skill, the nature of the audience, the nature of the environment. Each of these natures is comprised of elements like Performance conditions, subject matter factors, practical application factors, etc… These should be identified in the analysis, but in concept the profile construction provides an avenue to challenge these in the context of their combination.

    The attributes of the profile (I’ve been toying with some of the ways this could be represented) are defined using common language elements that ease the mapping to a pattern set. One example might be using a user attribute: Limited computer access and skills. A set of patterns may match up with this particular attribute. Enabling the decision maker / designer to filter suggested choices based on all of the profile attributes helps to narrow down not only what general design frameworks ‘might’ work, but also those that have a high probability of not working at all.

    Patterns fall into two general categories, strategic and tactical. Models form strategic patterns while components form tactical patterns. For example, a model might be a general assembly model for representing a performance concept. A component would be a more specific concept model to address a more specific nature attribute (perhaps a skill of hand assessment element like assembling a weapon).

    Just an idea that I think has some good application aligning the field. Dr. Ian Douglas and I proposed something similar a few years back. The response from the community in general was ‘we have best practices, we don’t need patterns’. This dismissed the entire idea of a pattern library and language. That we have problem solution pairing across the field, things we know work and things we know don’t work…

    Where I really think profile:pattern would be powerful is for the emerging trend of ICDM (I Can Doit Myself).

    At any rate, good stuff once again Clark.

    Comment by sflowers — 23 March 2009 @ 7:00 AM

  2. A quickly drawn diagram representing the concept. I can see why some would think that this is too complicated a deviation from the ADDIE model…:P


    Comment by sflowers — 23 March 2009 @ 7:12 AM

  3. Great post, Clark! However, I doubt that you’ve actually exhausted any thoughts on the subject ;)

    Comment by Cammy Bean — 23 March 2009 @ 7:55 AM

  4. Sflowers, I agree that “People just don’t use [ADDIE] the way it was intended”, which is at least part of the problem, but it’s not clear that it doesn’t still a) ignore the emotional/motivational/conative side, and b) not err on the side of minimalism.

    And I love your notion of patterns (and your diagram). I think with experience we do develop patterns, and making them explicit is at least part of the goal of my series).

    Cammy, I’m sure I’ve more to say on the subject, just not every Monday, rather I’ve exhausted the original series of topics I wanted to cover. I’ll pipe up again, be sure of it. :)

    Comment by Clark — 23 March 2009 @ 8:03 AM

  5. Not that I dislike the ADDIE process. But I just noticed that the process ends in DIE. Which may explain alot. :P

    Comment by sflowers — 24 March 2009 @ 12:20 PM

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