Choosing Between ADDIE Model Αnd SAM Model For Your Next eLearning Project

ADDIE (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate) and SAM (Successive Approximation Model) are often pitted against each other. In many ways, SAM was created to counter ADDIE. The latter hails from a military system that was translated for the technological world. SAM, meanwhile, is an IT-based solution. Each learning system has benefits and downsides, which you have to carefully weigh. The ADDIE model, for example, is systematic and repeatable but doesn’t let backtracking. The SAM model upgraded to AGILE (Align, Get set, Iterate & Implement, Leverage, Evaluate). Let’s review ADDIE and SAM, exploring which would work for you and why.

Understanding ADDIE Model

This entered the scene back in 1975 at Florida State University, and was intended for military application. Steps were followed in the sequential order, with a review at each stage before moving on to the next. This makes sense from a military perspective because it shows a clear pattern of cause and effect. It relays basic instructions, and it shows the direct consequences of not following orders. Plus, it’s effortlessly replicable. In that setting, it can be a practical teaching tool.

In the eLearning sphere, ADDIE is ideal for streamlining the eLearning development process. At each stage, the eLearning developer can see how far they’ve come, and tabulate the next step. This makes it easy to chart progress. There’s a tangible result at each stage and a paper trail for troubleshooting. Unfortunately, the presence of said paper trail doesn’t necessarily resolve the problem. It’s a waterfall or a top-down hierarchy.

Understanding SAM Model

Allen Interactions believed their new system would fix the waterfall problem. Instead of following a single vertical path, Step 1 became the Savvy Start. This is a focus group that theoretically reviews the process from start to finish. The group brainstorms any potential problems and establishes contingencies. This is all done and approved before the actual eLearning course development begins. It develops a template of if/then scenarios. Of course, no system is fool-proof, but SAM gives more forewarning than the ADDIE model. It creates an atmosphere of problem-solving rather than simply following instructions.

This strategy is better suited to IT and eLearning, vs the military strategy of unquestioningly doing what you’re told. It offers more autonomy, both to online learners and eLearning developers. And while both the SAM model and ADDIE are tools for eLearning content development, they influence teaching styles too. After all, the structure of your eLearning course affects what and how you learn from it.

SAM Vs. ADDIE Model: Which Approach Is Best For Your eLearning Development Project?

The Benefits And Drawbacks Of ADDIE

Because ADDIE is a linear system, it’s easy to look back and see what went wrong. It’s also versatile, in that you can use it for a variety of eLearning applications. Regardless of the subject matter, niche, or learning objectives. The ADDIE model also allows you to easily track measurable outcomes based on customized criteria. However, its linear approach does yield some drawbacks.

Because the error has already been compounded by subsequent phases, it can be hard to undo. Given that each stage has to be completed before moving on, you may be several steps further before you spot a problem. Some argue that ADDIE is lengthier and costlier, as well. As you’ll have to go back to the beginning to make necessary adjustments or revise eLearning content if you spot an error further into the process. Another issue is that you may discover that the deliverable doesn’t align with the learning objectives or goals in the end. Thereby, forcing you to retrace your steps to see what went wrong and how you can steer the eLearning strategy back on track.

The Pros And Cons Of SAM

SAM enables you to resolve issues quickly because of its non-linear structure. You’re able to course-correct without starting from scratch. Once the Savvy Start is complete, SAM model has six stages of design and development that run simultaneously. This makes it easy to spot a problem in one phase, repair it, and correct any related factors. It’s not a top-down system. Everything is collaborative, with each team and process feeding off each other.

In a sense, working together slows the process. But because every stage runs parallel, you can save time and quickly deal with errors. Another pro is that you get to produce a less polished version of the product early in the process. Thus, you can fine-tune the eLearning content as you move forward and ensure that it aligns with the learning goals and objectives.

The drawback is that many Instructional Designers prefer to have a more structured Instructional Design approach that involves more planning. While the ADDIE model follows the straight line, SAM is more of a cyclical process. The iterative nature of the model means that rapid prototyping is often the most essential step, with less emphasis on the prep phase.


How do you pick between the SAM model and the ADDIE model? Both systems have been tweaked and upgraded, so while their « founding principles » remain, their iterations look very different. ADDIE has a military background. It utilizes the step-by-step procedures and clear instructions are the key. So, it can be hard to go back a few stages to fix any mess. And even harder to find exactly how and where the problem started. On the other hand, SAM is a more concurrent system. It begins with a brainstorm, then once everything is mapped out, subsequent stages run at the same time. ADDIE works well for online training courses with sequential modules, like compliance online training courses. The SAM model is better for interwoven free-form online training, like departmental onboarding or field training.

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