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ADDIE is flexible


Most instructional designers and learning professionals are familiar with the classic ADDIE model. ADDIE is short for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation. Despite having been used as a process to create instructional products for many years, ADDIE has been criticised by many as a rigid, linear model. However, this is not the case.

Have you ever listened to the same musical piece played by different artists and felt differently? Just like there are many ways to perform a musical piece, there are many ways the ADDIE model can be used. Just like when a soulless expression of a song may not touch people’s hearts, rigid use of the ADDIE model will unlikely bring good results.

When used correctly, ADDIE can be a very flexible model.  In this article I share how ADDIE is flexible and some tips for using ADDIE flexibly to meet your needs.


The History of ADDIE

There is not a consensus on what ADDIE is, i.e. there is no agreement on one single specific process. There are two main views about the origin of the ADDIE model.

ADDIE as a specific Instructional System Development (ISD) model

Many consider the original ADDIE model was created first at the Florida State  University in 1975 (ADDIE model, 2016; Clark, 1999). The model was first crafted as a linear process and the acronym came much later (see Figure 1). At the time, each step should be performed sequentially.


Figure 1. A linear version of the ADDIE model

Figure 1. A linear version of the ADDIE model


In the 1980s,  ADDIE has evolved to be a more dynamic process where each step interacts with each other, depends on each other and influences each other’s outcomes (see Figure 2). The evaluation step is conducted for each phase and for the whole project.


Figure 2. An iterative version of the ADDIE model

Figure 2. An iterative version of the ADDIE model


ADDIE as an umbrella term for a family of ISD models

Others think that ADDIE is a product development paradigm, an umbrella term representing a collection of ISD models that commonly have five phases and what goes on in each of these phases varies greatly (Allen, 2012; Branch, 2010; Merrienboer, 1997; Molenda, 2003 ). According to Molenda (2003),  the ADDIE label seems to have evolved informally through oral tradition rather than a single author as the source of the ADDIE label. ISD models provide guidelines for conducting the activities in each phase (Merrienboer, 1997). In these models, formative evaluation is normally carried out in all phases .



ADDIE as none-linear model

ADDIE is flexible in how different steps in the process can be performed in non-linear manner. Although many people perceive or use ADDIE as a linear model, in reality, ADDIE has evolved to be cyclic and iterative if needs be. Many instructional scientists have expressed that “the phases may be listed in a linear order, but are in fact highly interrelated and typically not performed in a linear but in an iterative and cyclic fashion” (Merrienboer, 1997). For example, the Analysis phase informs the design process, but something in the Design phase could prompt further analysis.

There are many tasks in each ADDIE phase. You can select which tasks you want to carry out under each phase to fit your situation. You can also choose to do a part or a sped-up version of a phase first to gather more ideas then test those ideas before carrying out the full phase. See Figure 3 for a detailed example of the ADDIE model with different tasks under each phase.


Figure 3. A detailed example of the ADDIE model

Figure 3. A detailed example of the ADDIE model


Each phase in ADDIE can be a placeholder

A key thing in using ADDIE flexibly is to look at each phase in ADDIE as a placeholder for more detailed purpose-driven models. Clark (1999) describes ADDIE as a “plug and play” model when different models for each phase can be plugged in. Examples of purpose-driven models are Instructional Design(ID) models for the Design phase or Development models (e.g. prototyping, rapid development) for the Development phase.

ADDIE is a powerful and broad project management and process tool but it will not in itself produce effective learning experiences. For example, it doesn’t provide guidelines for how to create learning experiences that are motivating for learners. To achieve this, in the Design phase, we can plug in one or more ID models that fit with the situation. What ID models to use is very important in determining the effectiveness of the learning product.

If ISD models like ADDIE are about the steps required to build a learning product, ID models  are the soul of the Design phase. ID models has smaller scope than ISD models (Merrienboer, 1997). They provide more specific guidelines for the activities in the Analysis and Design phases.


How to use ADDIE flexibly

There are disadvantages when using a model with many ways to implement like ADDIE. In the book “Leaving ADDIE for SAM”, Allen and Sites (2012) establish the need for a consistent process that gives organisation a standardised approach and a good base for communication. They acknowledge ADDIE can be tailored but also point out it is not efficient when a process has to be tailored so much each time.

Despite the disadvantages, since ISD and ID involve complex decision making, this flexibility also makes ADDIE powerful when you make use of it. Here are some tips for using ADDIE flexibly while meeting your project requirements.


  1. Think non-linear: Think of the ADDIE model not as a sequence but a collection of phases that can be done in parallel or iterated for deeper results if need be.
  2. Make use of each phase’s outcomes:  Do use outcomes from each phase to inform other phases.  People sometimes make the mistake of carrying out tasks for the sake of carrying out tasks but not use the results to inform their tasks in other phases.
  3. Keep in mind the big picture: When conducting a certain phase, think about other phases.
  4. Involve learners early: A learning product should be learner-centred. Avoid costly mistakes by gathering input from the learners throughout the process.
  5. Be flexible when innovate: When you create an innovative learning product, flexibility is especially important.


  1. Determine the analysis questions: This is where the Analysis stage can be flexible. Determine what factors are important and can impact decision making in a project. Questions may be about:
    • Project requirements and goals
    • Content (e.g. types of skills)
    • Learners (e.g. prior and current knowledge and skills)
    • Resources (e.g. people, assets)
    • Constraints (e.g. budget, timeline, current technology)
    • Company culture and attitude (e.g. company’s attitude towards eLearning)
    • Measurement for learning and project success.
  2. Collect accurate data: It is important to collect accurate data in this phase to inform other phases and determine what to do in each phase.

Design and Development

  1. Select suitable ID methods: An ID model is like a recipe for the Design phase in ADDIE. Choose one or more ID models based on your situation’s characteristics, e.g. the characteristics of the learners, the types of skills, the learning environment and the business environment. Use the results from the Analysis phase to help inform this.
  2. Prototype: When necessary, e.g. with new innovative projects, use prototype methods. Prototyping encourages innovation and experimentation. You can create a preliminary design to allow for prototype then a full design can be released for actual development.


  1. Evaluate throughout the project: Even though evaluation seems really time consuming and one can be tempted to skip the evaluation process, don’t forget to evaluate each phase and the overall project.
  2. Gather input early:  Get feedback for a design as soon as possible to benefit from it.



From ADDIE’s flexibility come both strengths and weaknesses. However, the simplicity of the ADDIE concept combined with multiple prompts for inclusiveness continues to prove its effectiveness (Branch, 2010). Instead of saying goodbye to ADDIE, it can still be a part of your process toolbox when you use its strengths to your advantages.

Your turn

Think about a current project and see whether you can use some of the above tips to take advantages of ADDIE’s flexibility.



ADDIE model (2016) in Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ADDIE_Model (Accessed: 16 November 2016).

Allen, M., & Sites, R. (2012). Leaving ADDIE for SAM: An agile model for developing the best learning experiences. United States: American Society for Training & Development.

Branch, R. M. (2010). Instructional Design: The ADDIE approach. United States: Springer.

Clark, D. (1999) History of the ADDIE model. Available at: http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/history_isd/addie.html (Accessed: 16 November 2016).

Molenda, M. (2003) ‘In search of the elusive ADDIE model’, Performance Improvement, 42(5), pp. 34–36.

van Merrienboer, J.J.G. (1997) Training complex cognitive skills: A four-component instructional design model for technical training. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Educational Technology Publications.

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