Integrating ADDIE with Digital Learning: With So Much Technology Now Available, Instructional Designers Must Learn How to Use the ADDIE Model in the Context of Digital Learning

By Salas, Alexander | Talent Development, November 2018 | Go to article overview

Integrating ADDIE with Digital Learning: With So Much Technology Now Available, Instructional Designers Must Learn How to Use the ADDIE Model in the Context of Digital Learning


Salas, Alexander, Talent Development


It has been more than 40 years since the analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation framework--known as ADDIE--first appeared in the instructional systems design field. Today, ADDIE remains strong as a reference paradigm of solving instruction and performance support problems in business and academia. However, L&D professionals, especially instructional designers, face the challenge of effectively applying it to digital learning environments.

Think about it: The framework came into existence when there were no personal computers, smartphones, tablets, learning management systems, Internet, or social media channels. How do these technologies change the way ADDIE is performed? What variant of ADDIE would best match the needs of rapid development? Which evaluation tools should be used for digital learning?

These are important questions to answer, because the presence of all these resources and continually emerging technologies demand that instructional designers become flexible and adaptable at the art and science of marrying ADDIE to digital learning.

Linear vs. iterative ADDIE

Since its conception, ADDIE has been misrepresented as a linear set of stages that was assumed to be the only way the framework can be applied to instructional systems design. There are two variants of the framework: linear and iterative.

Linear. The linear approach has often been criticized for being inflexible, stifling the requirement of an interdependent sequential order of each stage. This means an instructional designer cannot develop any course element without completing needs analysis and design documentation first.

The linear approach should be avoided for designing digital learning assets, because many variables affect digital learning solutions development. Instructional designers must be capable of continuously analyzing needs to adjust their design measures accordingly, thus preventing costly development mistakes. For example, a designer could miss a change in target audience needs without revisiting the analysis stage, which could result in a course that won't play correctly for learners with accessibility needs or for those who live in remote regions with limited bandwidth. It can be the equivalent of a baker making a wedding cake with almonds when 20 percent of the guests are allergic to nuts.

Iterative. The iterative application of ADDIE proposes a lesser amount of risk and better flexibility adapting to scope changes. Iterative design has been a popular approach in software development with the application of the Agile method as well as L&D-friendly versions such as Michael Allen's Successive Approximation Method. The iterative process enables instructional designers to have increased communication with subject matter experts, create quick prototypes, and validate design strategies.

For example, an instructional designer considering implementing interactive elements like custom menus or drag-and-drop interactions can build rough prototypes to validate their functionality across various web browsers before fully developing an e-learning course. The same treatment applies to anything digital.

Generic vs. digital ADDIE

The generic version of ADDIE has 21 tasks distributed across all stages. This is a good starting point for instructional designers, but there's much more to consider in digital development.

Generic analysis. In generic ADDIE, probable causes for a performance gap are identified at the analysis stage by assessing performance, determining instructional goals, analyzing learners, auditing available resources, determining delivery systems (including cost estimates), and composing a project management plan.

Digital analysis. ADDIE for digital learning will include all generic tasks plus identifying web analytics, digital learning behavior, accessibility requirements, security requirements, localization requirements, equipment needs, responsive web design needs, and IT infrastructure changes and disruptions. …

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