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Virtual Battle Series: ADDIE vs SAM

Thursday, February 15, 2018 8:14 AM | Kevin Smith (Administrator)

Virtual Battle Series: ADDIE vs SAM    

by: Marc DeCarli

Creating a learning experience is not easy. There are can be many risks, complexities, and constraints. L&D professionals have several learning design methodologies to choose from: ADDIE, SAM, Learner First, Agile, and Design Thinking. Which is best is hotly debated, and two that are most contested are ADDIE and SAM.

ADDIE stands for analysis, design, develop, implement, evaluate. It was originally designed for creating instructor-led training, and is considered to be a traditional waterfall method. In other words, ADDIE is a process designed to move things forward in a sequential order. It has been the go-to methodology for novices and experienced instructional designers and learning project managers for years. It is easy to follow, very detailed with many possible tasks, but it can be overwhelming as a result. Opponents of ADDIE also consider its design its biggest flaw; do all of the analysis, then design, develop, implement, and evaluate.


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Successive Approximation Model (SAM) was created and is used primarily for e-learning development. Created by Michael Allen, CEO of Allen Interactions, SAM is an iterative and collaborative process that provides L&D professionals the greatest opportunity to create the most effective learning experience possible within its constraints. Allen’s goal was to create a methodology that is a more agile, effective, and flexible process that challenges learning designs early and throughout.

In contrast with ADDIE, SAM is not a linear process. It arguably focuses more on learning experiences, learner engagement, and learner motivation than content organization, presentation of information, and summarize post-tests. While traditional approaches such as ADDIE seek to ensure accuracy and completeness of content, SAM works to uncover engaging and interactive learning events. In order for these learning experiences to be effective, they need to be meaningful, memorable, and motivational. Otherwise known as the three Ms.


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So, should ADDIE be thrown out with the bath water? Some L&D professionals say no, that right now ADDIE is still the easiest and most effective in certain circumstances. For instance, if you were asked to create a compliance training, a day-long instructor-led training or webinar, ADDIE can be very effective.

On the other hand, SAM would be the more effective approach if you were asked to create an e-learning project (e.g., workshop for salespeople), with many stakeholders, is highly politicized, and everyone wants to be involved, where time is tight (i.e., six months) and cost is limited.

While no process can address or overcome all the challenges that L&D professionals will face during an instructional design project, arguably, taking a more agile, interactive approach to design and focusing more on performance than on content can increase the chances of creating a brilliant learning experience. Both ADDIE and SAM have their pros and cons, as do other development methods. All of them provide a repeatable checklist that facilitates faster and quality development of learning events and experiences. But these methodologies can tempt you to follow them blindly. Learning development is a science and an art, and some tasks can be completed easily, while others require innovation and vision. Which ever approach you choose for your learning project, do not let it limit your flexibility.

Marc DeCarli is an engaging talent development professional with wide-ranging experience in adult learning, facilitation, leadership, technology, and training development. He has 15+ years of experience developing and delivering training content to new and experienced employees, coaching, and leading teams in challenging and dynamic organizations.

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