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Enough with the ADDIE vs. SAM Nonsense

Over the past five to 10 years, I have read numerous articles and blogs about the great debate between ADDIE and SAM. This debate has coincided with the agile versus waterfall debate in the software development world, and this is where I have a problem.  

ADDIE is casually labelled as a linear waterfall methodology, whereas SAM is an agile iterative approach. I personally think that the  Successive  Approximation  Model is a first-rate instructional design approach. However, I would argue that it’s a methodology derived from the ADDIE model and not a stark alternative.  

I feel like ADDIE has been unfairly labelled as a linear, non-cyclical methodology. Critics claim ADDIE is responsible for typical training project challenges like prolonged development cycles, communication issues with SMEs and stakeholdersand no time for testing. The purpose of this blog (or rant ) is to stick up for ADDIE and point out that ADDIE and SAM are similar. 

ADDIE vs. SAM DebateHere’s What You Need to Know 

Let’s look at the first accusation that ADDIE, like waterfall SDLC models, is a linear approach where one phase cannot begin until a previous phase is complete. This is a simplistic characterization of ADDIE 

and in my experience, it’s misleading.  

What instructional designer has ever only done the E of evaluation once the whole course has been implemented? This has never happened in my experience. However, ADDIE critics often claim this is the case 

I have worked on multiple ID projects in which our team proudly proclaimed its adherence to ADDIE. We planned and executed the ADDIE steps in a cyclical and nonlinear approach. The project consisted of multiple iterations and frequent involvement of SMEs and stakeholders.  

Typically, we would complete one module going through all of the phases. SMEs and stakeholders were heavily involved in the evaluation of the initial module, and the lessons learned were then re-applied into the remaining project scope. This evaluation feedback often resulted in design doc modificationsas well as applying “learnings” to the development of subsequent modules.  

Yes, we followed A to D to D to I to E for that first moduleBut, we then went E to design, E to dev. and even E to analysis (when stakeholders realized they had omitted a key business requirement). 

The project challenges that the ADDIE critics cite are absolutely present in the corporate L&D world. But to attribute ADDIE as the cause and SAM as the solution to these problems is wrong!  

Prolonged development cycles, communication issues with SMEs and stakeholdersand no time for testing are the results of poor project management. I am confident that an ID team that follows the SAM model but fails to involve the right SMEs and engage the appropriate stakeholders will ultimately miss the true enduser and relevant business goals. This SAM team will face those socalled “ADDIE challenges. 

The Bottom Line on ADDIE vs. SAM 

Let’s focus exclusively on involving SMEs and stakeholders throughout our projects, verify our instructional approach, confirm the business goals early on, and continue to engage stakeholders. This is done with strong project management, along with an instructional design model (SAM or ADDIE). And remember, SAM methodology is essentially a series of cycles that involve Analysis, Design, Development, and review (which is Implemented to Evaluate). 

Want to Hire L&D Professionals Who Recognize the Value of Project Management? LTS Can Help 

At LTS, we can help you add L&D professionals who understand the ins and outs of ADDIE and SAM – and possess exceptional project management skills. To learn more, please contact us today 


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