Around the fourth year of my e-learning career, I was a perhaps overly confident young learning designer who had the good fortune to work with a wide range of clients in the FMCG, financial, higher education and non-profit sectors. With my growing portfolio of successful projects, I felt that I had mastered the ADDIE process. I had developed my own range of reliable e-learning templates, guides, assets and processes, and I was enjoying using my system to advise colleagues and clients. What happened next was quite predictable in hindsight: one of the most deceptively boring projects of my career gave me back some much-needed curiosity and humility in my approach to the ADDIE model.
Keep your curiosity alive
In a strange city, in the windowless conference room of my most corporate client, I, the twenty-something e-learning consultant, was introduced to the company’s rather unique subject matter expert. He was a 70-year old instructional designer, Mr John B, who was gently trying to fool everyone into forgetting his age so that he wouldn’t have to retire. Granted, Mr John was no e-learning Yoda; he was a normal man who had been mastering his craft for thirty years by teaching his colleagues the intricacies of selling furniture. However, the fact that his years of a careful and thorough ADDIE practice outnumbered those of my entire life was enough to help me regain a learning mindset when it comes to e-learning.
Mr John B represented a system of knowledge that had existed for almost three decades. Its nodes were varied: people, machines, labels, books, posters, objects, strange representations of objects, explicit processes, and implicit processes that lived more in the body than they did in the mind. How could I possibly account for all of this complexity in twenty Storyline courses? Did I really understand how our programme would fit into this system? Which nodes would it replace, alter, or even accidentally disable? Did I understand how introducing new variables would change the system, and thereby also change the requirements of their design? Suddenly, the once-familiar ADDIE process seemed a strange landscape with unpredictable weather, and it demanded nimble feet to navigate.
A short history of ADDIE
The ADDIE model is one of many approaches to instructional design that emerged in the late 1970s. Florida State University developed the model in collaboration with a branch of the U.S. Army to systamitise their approach to instruction. The original version of ADDIE is a lot more rigid and hierarchical, and requires that each phase is completed before the next commences. The process has since become more flexible, and in the eighties it began to take the form in which it is still used today. Let’s recap what usually happens in each phase.
The learning designer identifies any gaps, needs or jobs to be done that the learning intervention or system needs to target. They also work to identify technological, infrastructure, budget, timeline, stakeholder or regulatory considerations. The target learners are identified and understood, and the appropriate underpinning learning theory and educational philosophy is often determined in response. Many practitioners make use of a needs analysis, gap analysis, risk analysis, stakeholder analysis, learning journey map, or similar e-learning templates to complete their analysis.
In this phase, the learning designer determines the objectives and format of the intervention. They decide how synchronous the experience should be, whether there are specific linear journeys through the material, and whether delivery is blended, in person or entirely online. The practitioner will also divide learning objectives among courses, units or modules with a set duration and, where appropriate, sequence. This phase can also include the design of the learning management solution and related support structures if this is not already in place. Depending on what the project requires, most learning designers will make use of a templates to guide their solution design, programme design, course design, learning brand design, scenario development and support system design.
This is where most instructional and learning designers focus their energy, in collaboration with graphic designers, motion designers, learning technologists and developers. The phase usually begins with content curation or development, followed by storyboarding and scripting. The media team will then use this material to source or develop graphics and other multi-modal learning assets, after which the final product is created using a range of authoring tools and other technologies. For this final phase, most learning designers and developers will use carefully designed templates to ensure a seamless, engaging learning experience. Less experienced teams also require guides that assist their e-learning developers with using their learning management system with technical consistency and accuracy, and to its full potential.
Once development is completed, the relevant teams recruit the learners and generate excitement about the programme. Learners can then access and complete the content, usually assisted by facilitators and technical support. In some cases, academic staff also give synchronous or asynchronous instruction, and therefore have to undergo training on e-learning best practice and using their LMS. In this phase, the systems need to be set up to collect various types of learning data, so that the organisation is able to measure the success of the project. Many institutions make use of templates that guide data collection and analysis for e-learning, as well as playbooks for communication strategies that maximise learner retention.
In the final phase of ADDIE, learning designers analyse and study the data collected during the implementation phase to identify how the learning intervention or system needs to be improved, and which of the identified changes to prioritise for the next iteration.
Where ADDIE goes wrong
One of the most common criticisms of ADDIE is that it can result in siloed and overly abstract thinking. You may approach the model in an overly linear way, or disregard learnings from other fields that could impact the success of your e-learning project. For example, might younger students be more likely to engage with the material if we mimic that gambler’s lure of uncertain reward that their phones use to keep their attention? Are your manufacturing learners unable to hear your expensive videos because they are in a room next to very loud machinery?
In Intertwingled: Information changes everything (2004), Peter Morville writes “We must go from boxes to arrows. Tomorrow belongs to those who connect” (5). We cannot think of our e-learning work as isolated events that produce a predictable set of outcomes, but the necessary systems thinking is difficult and time-consuming. Where do you start and end when everything is interconnected? Even more alarmingly, e-learning budgets are growing larger by the day, and content is becoming more engaging and appealing. Every second YouTube video is now a direct competitor for your learner’s attention.
In practice, few teams can afford the time it takes to research recent developments, not to mention implement and test them in our work with well-designed e-learning templates and processes. That’s why we want to help you stay up to date with the latest, best possible version of each step in the ADDIE process. As my drama teacher used to say, “practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect”. In our rapidly developing industry, we all face increasing pressure to achieve perfection fast, and no-one wants to fall behind.
Use e-learning templates to keep up
Although all of us are familiar with ADDIE, we can never know quite enough about how to use it. The available learning theory research and technologies that guide and determine our results are ever-changing in a very exciting way. Professional e-learning templates, assets and guides for every stage of the ADDIE process can help you to stay ahead in the research and development of your practice. It can also help you to create work that is fresh and exciting in an increasingly competitive field with goal posts that continue to shift.
Rely on the research and work of other professionals so that you can borrow and learn from them, and create engaging e-learning underpinned by sound educational theory. Our global community of e-learning experts will help you to leverage skills from within your own field as well as from bordering disciplines to create high quality solutions, and ultimately move toward a more perfect practice of your craft.
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