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In the world of instructional design, there are two industry-recognized instructional design models most people follow: ADDIE and SAM. And while each model has its own pros and cons, it’s not always clear which model is right for your eLearning projects.

So, in this post, I’m sharing my thoughts on ADDIE vs. SAM for eLearning and how to pick the right one for your projects.

What is ADDIE?

for its linear approach and lack of flexibility. As a result, it’s often suggested that ADDIE is similar to a “waterfall” project management model, where each phase is completed sequentially.

“ADDIE” is an acronym representing the five phases for developing learning content: Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate.

While the ADDIE model is the most widely-known and used instructional design model, it’s often criticized for its linear approach and lack of flexibility. As a result, it’s often suggested that ADDIE is similar to a “waterfall” project management model, where each phase is completed sequentially.

What is SAM?

ADDIE vs. SAM for eLearning | “SAM,” which is also an acronym for Successive Approximation Model, is a cyclical design and development model. Unlike the linear or waterfall approach used by ADDIE, SAM is often compared to agile project management models, in that a project will go through several, quick drafts and iterations until the ideal solution is created.

“SAM,” which is also an acronym for the Successive Approximation Model, is a cyclical design and development model. Unlike the linear or waterfall approach used by ADDIE, SAM is often compared to agile project management models, in that a project will go through several, quick drafts and iterations until the ideal solution is created.

Which Model Should You Follow?

While ADDIE and SAM are often touted as “instructional design models,” in my opinion, this isn’t really the case. The truth is, they are more akin to project management models, which are focused on process rather than design. As a result, there’s nothing about either model which lends itself to designing and developing instructionally-sound, performance-based eLearning content.

So, which model should you use? Well, I think it totally depends on your organization, your stakeholders, the project, and your preferences. There are times when ADDIE (a waterfall approach) makes more sense, and there are times when SAM (an iterative approach) is the better choice. It always depends.

Can ADDIE Be Iterative Like SAM?

Sure! Why not? I believe it’s possible to combine the best parts of ADDIE and SAM. Although ADDIE is designed as a linear process, I don’t think there’s any reason why you can’t have multiple iterations at each stage. Regardless of which model you use, remember: you’re always free to adapt it to fit your needs!

The Bottom Line

Regardless of which model you follow, your bigger priority should be to design eLearning that actually delivers results. This means conducting a proper needs analysis to ensure you’re not designing a learning solution for a non-learning problem. It also means designing a learning solution that’s focused on what your learners need to do, not just what they need to know.

You can easily accomplish these things regardless of which model you choose to use. What do you think about ADDIE vs. SAM for eLearning? Share your thoughts by commenting below!

Tim Slade

Tim Slade

Hi, I’m Tim Slade, and I’m a speaker, author, and founder of The eLearning Designer's Academy. Having spent the last decade working to help others elevate their eLearning and visual communications content, I have been recognized and awarded within the eLearning industry multiple times for my creative and innovative design aesthetics. I’m also a regular speaker at international eLearning conferences, a LinkedIn Learning instructor, and author of The eLearning Designer’s Handbook.

4 Comments

  • Andreas says:

    Hi Tim,
    I am a big fun of yours as well as Cathy’s Moore. Your book as well as Map it of Cathy’s are on my top preference. When I first read your book I’ve realized that you were describing exactly the same process as the one we use to apply with my eLearning team for our medical eLearning projects.
    After applying Action Mapping for five years now I can tell that changed the way of thinking of many of my healthcare SMEs. SAM is my preference as my projects are mostly characterized as micro learning or short eLearning modules for adult learning. The majority of my audience of about 25,000 users are busy healthcare professionals with limited time they can spend continuously in front of a screen without being distracted within 10 to 15 min by a phone call or a colleague, or a patient.
    I was wondering what ID model could be better though for higher education, in order to keep young adults of modern era motivated?

    • Tim Slade says:

      Thanks for sharing, Andreas! And yes, Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping is a fantastic resource! I highly recommend it. To your question, I don’t think it’s about which model is right or wrong. It’s less about the model and more about what’s best for delivering the necessary content to the audience.

  • Laura says:

    I also advocate using the ADDIE model as a way of educating others as to what we do.

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