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

27 March 2010

The Great ADDIE Debate

Clark @ 11:34 AM

At the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions conference this week, Jean Marripodi convinced Steve Acheson and myself to host a debate on the viability of ADDIE in her ID Zone.  While both of us can see both sides of ADDIE, Steve uses it, so I was left to take the contrary (aligning well to my ‘genial malcontent’ nature).

This was not a serious debate, in the model of the Oxford Debating Society or anything, but instead we’d agreed that we were going to go for controversy and fun in equal measures.  This was about making an entertaining and informative event, not a scientific exploration.  And in that, I think we succeeded (you can review the tweet stream from attendees and some subsequent conversation).  Rather than recap the debate (Gina Minks has a short piece in her overall summary of the day), I’ll recap the points:

The pros:

  • ADDIE provides structured guidance for design
  • ADDIE includes a focus on implementation and evaluation
  • ADDIE serves as a valuable checklist to complement our idiosyncratic design habits

The cons:

  • ADDIE is inherently a waterfall model, and needs patching to accommodate iterative development and rapid prototyping
  • People use ADDIE too much as a crutch for design without taking responsibility for using it appropriately
  • It assumes courses

The pragmatics:

Steve showed how he does take responsibility, putting evaluation in the middle and using it more flexibly. He uses Dick & Carey’s model to start with, ensuring that a course is the right solution.  The fact that the initial ‘course, job aid, other problem’ analysis is not included, however, is a concern.

It also came out that having a process is a powerful argument against those who might try to press unreasonable production constraints on you.  If a VP wants it done in an unreasonable time frame, or doesn’t want to allow you to question the analysis that a course is needed, you have a push back (“it’s in our process”), particularly in a process organization.  You do want a process.

The Alternatives:

The obvious question came up about what would be used in place of ADDIE.  I believe that ADDIE as a checklist would be a nice accompaniment to both a more encompassing  and a more learning-centric approach.  For the former, I showed the HPT model as a representation of a design approach considering courses as part of a larger picture.  For the latter, I suggested that a focus on learning experience design would be appropriate.

Using an HPT-like approach first, to ensure that a course is the right solution, is necessary.  Then, I’d focus on working backwards from the needed change (Michael Allen talked about using sketches as lightweight prototypes at the conference, and first drawing the last activity the user engaged in) thinking about creating a learning experience that develops the learner’s capability.  Finally, I’d be inclined to use ADDIE as a checklist to ensure all the important components are considered, once I’d drafted an initial design (or several).  ADDIE certainly may be useful in taking that design forward, through development, implementation and evaluation.


I think ADDIE falls apart most in the initial analysis, not being broad enough, and in the design process: e.g. most ID processes neglect the emotional side of the equation, despite the availability of Keller’s ARCS model (which wasn’t even in the TIP database!).  Good users, like Steve, take responsibility for reframing it practically, but I’m not confident that even a majority of ADDIE use is so enabled.  Consequently, I worry that ADDIE is more detrimental than good.  It ensures the minimum, but it essentially prevents inspiration.

I’m willing to be wrong, but I’ve been looking at the debate on both sides for a long time.  While I know that PowerPoint doesn’t kill people, people kill people, and the same is true of ADDIE, the continued reliance on it is problematic.  We probably need a replacement, one that starts with a broader analysis, and then provides guidance across job aid development, course development and more, that has at core iterative and situated design, informed by the recognition of the emotional nature of human use.  Anyone have one to hand?  Thoughts on the above?


  1. I was taught to use an HPT approach as part of ADDIE (with evaluation at each stage) and to consider affective domains when designing objectives (part of addressing motivational issues). My thought is that ADDIE is being misapplied (i.e., the analysis phase at least) when it doesn’t take into account the broader picture of whether courses are even necessary. I don’t see that ADDIE excludes learning experience design.

    The argument that ADDIE implies a linear approach and needs to be modified to accommodate rapid prototyping seems to me a strange one (in practice, necessity may require that you do some stages in parallel or in a much shortened manner than ideal but that’s just life in the biz world). I’m just curious where in the original literature, ADDIE came to be described as a linear model…the mnemonic itself is linear but as for the theory…I bet if you could find an original article describing ADDIE, you wouldn’t see that suggestion.

    So I guess I don’t see a need for a replacement just a better understanding that ADDIE is more fluid than people are saying and like any model can be integrated with other models.

    Comment by dr2 — 28 March 2010 @ 9:02 AM

  2. I weighed in on this debate in a blog post last September: http://stephenjgill.typepad.com/performance_improvement_b/2009/09/addie-is-alive.html Essentially, I agree with you, Clark, that ADDIE can be a useful checklist once you have decided that a training course is the solution, but not until then. I’ve seen too many cases where trainers and instructional designers have jumped to ADDIE before they have clarified the business goals and organizational learning needs. I like to start with a broader model (i.e. Success Map) that requires alignment among the organization’s strategic goals, short-term goals, unit or team performance to achieve those goals, intended on-the-job behaviors, and the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs employees need in order to achieve strategic business goals.

    Comment by Stephen J. Gill — 29 March 2010 @ 7:04 AM

  3. Wonderful things have been written on this subject by the late great Ron Zemke.

    ADDIE or ISD is no one thing in practice. There are almost as many iterations as there are practitioners.

    Some see ISD as procedural, rigorous, characterized by one box each for analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation, with arrows linking the boxes and dependable steps directing what to do and in what order. Others see it differently. They emphasize what goes on within the boxes, inclining towards a more heuristic approach (Clark’s checklists), with rules of thumb considered as the process moves forward. In the former, instructional design is a favorite recipe. In the latter, it’s about continuous tasting, guided by a mental model derived from the literature, data, and past successes.

    Here is what gives ADDIE its addie-ness:

    • There is purpose and defined process. Even though everybody does not see it the same way, most agree that data enlightens decision and output from one phase serves as input for subsequent actions and decisions.
    • Theory drives practice. There are reasons for the decisions that are made, and those decisions are based on the literature and best practices regarding learning, communications, technology and culture. Today we look at web usability studies and examples to guide decisions about interfaces for online learning.
    • Data direct decisions. Instructional designers make decisions based on data from many sources, including clients, job incumbents, the literature, work products, and error rates. Data focus the instructional designer’s attention, and educates the customer.
    • Causes count. Once the mission is defined, instructional designers want to know why? Why are appraisal forms flawed? Is it that they don’t know how or that they don’t think it’s worth doing or that doing it results in a hassle? Why does the group in Belgium do it, when the group in Boston doesn’t? Solutions are systems and are born of information about causes and drivers.
    • Instruction is good, but not sufficient. Wise instructional designers ask questions about causes in order to use instructional resources where they can do the most good. Instruction is only one thing we can do to develop and enhance performance.
    • Outcomes are king. While there is disagreement from constructivists about how very royal outcomes are, most instructional designers subscribe to the importance of defining what participants will be able to do as a result of the learning experiences.

    Comment by Allison Rossett — 29 March 2010 @ 6:31 PM

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  6. Thank you very much for an insightful summary. As you know there is a similar debate within the IT world between the old waterfall model (defined methods) and the agile model (empirical methods). PMI in one corner and the Agile Alliance in the other. It is very interesting to observe how the two similar conversations are held in both camps.

    Comment by Hanno Jarvet — 16 April 2010 @ 8:32 AM

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