Leaving ADDIE for SAM at ASTD-NY January eLearning SIG Meeting

041282.Addie for Sam BC.inddOn Wednesday evening, January 23rd, Dale Carnegie Training kindly hosted ASTD-NY’s January eLearning Special Interest Group (SIG) meeting.  Guest speaker Richard Sites, Ed.D, Vice President of Client Services for Allen Interactions, was a gracious, amusing, and interesting presenter.  Richard took time out of his busy schedule to speak with us about the new book he worked on with his boss Michael Allen (creator of Authorware and well-known learning guru), provocatively titled Leaving ADDIE for SAM.  Richard explained that when ASTD Press approached Michael about writing a new book, Allen Interactions had been evolving its own alternative to the traditional instructional design process model of Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate (ADDIE).  So it seemed the perfect topic to explore at length in a new publication.  Their goal was to set forth and make the case for their own process, the Successive Approximation Model (SAM).  The main goals of SAM are to provide a cycle that works faster, and gets to the “true voice” of the learning content more effectively, than a traditional linear interpretation of the ADDIE process might allow.  Another stated goal for SAM is to provide “the highest probability for performance change”–a goal we all share regardless of our preferred process.  Richard cited the book’s robust sales since its publication in September 2012 as a clear indicator that we in the eLearning industry are always seeking process improvement, even to long-standing models like ADDIE.

Richard cited four common challenges or misconceptions that often haunt the eLearning instructional design process:

1) “Skillful execution of a process guarantees a quality product.”  Of course it doesn’t, because there are always so many variables.  There is not necessarily a direct correlation between process and product.
2) “Accurate information is the key to an effective learning experience.”  Accuracy is important, of course, but let’s face it–on its own, it doesn’t guarantee engagement or retention.
3) “The environment in which we work does not affect the design of the learning experience we create.”  We all know that ivory tower instructional design isn’t likely to speak to a real-world target audience.  We need to be in the trenches with our client and their audience.
4) “Because you went to school, you know what makes a good learning experience.”  Richard allowed that people who have had an education will of course have opinions about what makes good (and bad) learning, and they’re entitled to express those opinions.  But it doesn’t make them experts in the learning field, especially not in the area of eLearning.

Richard provided a quote from Michael Allen that highlights a key reason they created SAM: “It’s too early to define a process unless you’ve defined the product you want it to produce.”  Richard offered the Allen Interactions view that a traditional, rigid interpretation of ADDIE “doesn’t have a product expectation.”  To play devil’s advocate, I’d have to say that I have always seen establishing that clear expectation of end product and desired outcomes as a fundamental part of a successful Analysis phase in ADDIE.  But as with laws, I find a lot of this dialogue can often boil down to semantics and individual interpretation.  SAM is also built on Allen Interactions’ “3M” Design Principles: Meaningful, Memorable, and Motivational–i.e., relevant to current job responsibilities, engaging enough to encourage knowledge transfer, and inspiring enhanced performance from learners. Again, nothing to argue with there!  So what are the SAM phases, then?  There are only three main ones.  But note that the second and third have mini-cycles within them:

  • Preparation Phase: Background and Information Collecting; End product: a preliminary form of Design Document
  • Iterative Design Phase: Prototype, Review, and Design in an iterative cycle as needed (goal: Max of 3 cycles);  End product: a Design Proof
  • Iterative Development Phase: Develop, Implement, Evaluate, in an iterative cycle (again, with a limit to cycles);  End product: the finished eLearning course

Richard said that at Allen Interactions, they do not create traditional Storyboards per se; instead, they prefer to put together a series of simple prototypes (created with anything from MSWord to Articulate Storyline to Flash) to “sculpt” the course iteratively with the client’s input as they go.  Their SAM process means showing these visual and interactive elements to clients during their second phase, arguably a phase sooner than ADDIE.  In my experience, a proof of concept (a real hands-on taste of what the target audience will see) very early on is always important to ensure that you and your client are on the same conceptual page.  So I certainly agree with Richard here–although again I think only the most rigid, linear interpretation of ADDIE would preclude that being an early part of the process.  But if eLearning content creators out there aren’t offering their clients an early functioning proof of concept  before the Develop phase of ADDIE, then the SAM methodology may help make the need for that more clear.

“Challenge-based design” is what SAM is meant to encourage, through what Allen Interactions calls their CCAF model: Context, Challenge, Activity, Feedback.  Richard’s example: a line of people at Starbucks are trying to grab a cup of coffee quickly so they can all get to work on time.  The Barista sees the context (long line of clients in a hurry) and the challenge (getting the orders done right, quickly).  The activity is filling the orders efficiently, and the feedback is the customer’s response (satisfied or not).  SIG co-chair Enid Crystal pointed out that these are the same elements typically discussed in the creation of gaming software, and Richard readily agreed.  I think most of us would agree that we live by these basic principles when designing our interactive eLearning.  Richard noted that he might want to change “Feedback” to  “Consequence” to in their model; I would suggest perhaps “Results” or “Outcome” as to my ear “Consequence” has a slightly pejorative ring to it.

With regard to outcome, Richard provided an appropriate quote from Michael Allen:  “Good learning experiences aren’t just about facts, they are about becoming a more proficient, capable, and valuable person.” I couldn’t agree more.   As someone who has never taken the ADDIE model too literally, the SAM approach makes perfect sense to me.  I suggested, and Richard agreed, that for those of us who have always viewed ADDIE as a high-level guide rather than a rigid, lock-step process, SAM could be considered a more in-depth depiction of what really goes on “under the hood” in ADDIE when working with clients.  I would even suggest that rather than being a “giant killer” alternative that leaves ADDIE dead in the dust, SAM might be considered ADDIE’s transgendered alter ego!  When queried by some of the attendees, Richard did note that while there is no formal separate “E” (evaluation) phase listed in their model, evaluation is of course always part of the initial discussion with the client.  He rightly noted that in reality, most performance evaluation follow-through lives or dies in the hands of the client.  We can encourage it, but at the end of the day, the client must want it and own it, as the learning process continues back on the job long after the eLearning course has been completed.

Richard left us with the following equation to sum up their approach:
(SAM + CCAF) x Partnership & Communication = Meaningful, Memorable & Motivational Learning Experiences

If you have followed the ADDIE process rigidly until now (for instance, only introducing proof of concept and visual elements in the Development phase, and disallowing minor internal iterations), then Michael and Richard’s new book may serve as an important awakening for you, or at least some meaty food for thought.  Otherwise, you may see it as a potentially clearer way of expressing what you’re already doing.  I do think that the high-level steps of ADDIE may be simpler to explain to a client than SAM for discussion purposes, and I still reference ADDIE freely on my own web site for that reason.  But in my experience, the SAM approach is more what real-world eLearning project cycles look like behind the scenes, and both Richard and Michael deserve a lot of credit for sharing SAM with the learning community.  If you have the opportunity to hear Richard Sites speak at other functions, you should go.  He is an excellent presenter, and a good listener, with an obvious love of learning, and an in-depth understanding of what it takes to create memorable, transformative eLearning.  Thanks again to Dale Carnegie Training for hosting this invigorating event, and to eLearning SIG co-chairs Enid Crystal and John Galto for arranging another valuable session.