Using a development model to design eLearning can impose a process for design and development that ensures the end result meets stated needs and goals. ADDIE is a well-known and widely used instructional design model that is commonly used, or adapted for use, in creating eLearning. The phases of the ADDIE model translate into concrete steps or tasks for instructional designers.

ADDIE’s five phases

Analyze: In the analysis phase, the goals are defined. What is this training intended to accomplish? Will it solve a problem, teach a skill, reinforce existing knowledge, or do something else? How is success defined? The target audience is also defined at this stage.

Design: In the design phase, measurable learning objectives are formulated to meet the course goals. The design of the instructional method, including any exercises or interactivity, must fit with both the course goals and the learning objectives.

Develop: Content creation, as well as course development, occurs in the third phase. Storyboarding or wireframing occurs in this phase, usually as a precursor to actual coding or course development.

Implement: The course is released in this phase, and the first learners use it. These learners complete the course and begin to apply what they’ve learned.

Evaluate: Learners might provide feedback, via “smile sheets” or other methods. The learners’ managers might evaluate whether the eLearning was effective by considering whether a problem has been solved.

ADDIE is a sequential or “waterfall” model, which means that each phase is completed before the next phase is started. ADDIE’s critics find this too rigid or unrealistic; therefore, some variations and literal “twists” on ADDIE introduce iterations of design and testing, for example.

However ADDIE is applied, instructional designers (IDs) can extrapolate from the five phases specific tasks whose completion will result in eLearning that meets the needs of the target audience.

Analysis of needs and audience

It’s easy for IDs to go astray early in the process. ADDIE’s analyze phase is a good place to make sure that doesn’t happen. Rather than jump in to start planning the requested eLearning course, the ID should first focus on the needs analysis.

What problem is the requested training expected to resolve? It might turn out that the solution does not lie in training at all—the situation could be ripe for a job aid, a mobile performance support app, or a simulation that can refresh skills that learners already have but which might be rusty. It’s also possible that the identified performance gap has nothing to do with employees’ knowledge or skills but is the result of an organizational problem, malfunctioning or needed equipment, or even processes that are in place due to legal or other requirements that no amount of training will change.

Once a clear need to develop eLearning or some other tool is established, the next step is an examination of the target audience. What, if any, knowledge or skills do the learners have already? How competent do they need to become? If they need to be familiar with the information or process, must they be able to “do it in their sleep”—or is some intermediate level appropriate?

The gap between learners’ current knowledge and the desired level of competence might be enormous—or minuscule. This gap defines the scope of the training, job aid, coaching, or other solution—or series of solutions and tools.

Analysis of the target audience also must consider:

  • Learners’ technical savvy. If they will spend more time learning to operate the eLearning than actually mastering the content, a less technical approach is needed.
  • The amount of time learners have. If learners are already stretched thin, their focus on eLearning is likely to be minutes a day, if that. If learners are preparing for a new system that is being phased in over the next year, it might be possible to schedule deeper training.
  • Where learners will complete the training. Will they be at their desks, or doing it on the fly; is the training synchronous or asynchronous?

Knowledge of the clear training goals and familiarity with the target audience make defining learning objectives feasible. This moves the ID into the design phase.

Designing learning objectives and instructional strategy

A learning objective is defined more narrowly than a course goal. The design stage of ADDIE is the time to write specific, measurable learning objectives. These are concrete skills that the learner will be able to demonstrate after successfully completing the eLearning. Thus, a learning objective should include both the content—the specific skill or information to be learned—and the level of mastery or performance that is expected.

When learning objectives have been defined, the ID can then figure out which skills or knowledge require prerequisite skills, and begin to design a coherent sequence of instruction. This phase is also where the ID determines the approach for delivering instruction—will there be a synchronous course? Self-paced modules? Simulations? Learning games?

The instructional strategy depends in large part on the type of information. Learning new skills requires practice; mastering information might mix information delivery with recall games, spaced practice, and quizzes. Simulations are often a key element of practicing soft skills, such as providing feedback to direct reports or improving communication skills.

Learning objectives should be measurable—and the ID needs to design the evaluation method. This can factor into the instructional strategy as, for example, short quizzes at the end of each self-paced module. Evaluation can also separate from the instruction, such as requiring a minimum score on an exam to move to the next module or course.

IDs and developers can save themselves from expensive errors if they focus on the design phase and early development—such as storyboarding or wireframing.

ID transfers responsibility to developers

ADDIE’s develop phase is where the ID might step back and let SMEs—subject matter experts—and developers take the reins. SMEs are the experts in the topic or skill area of instruction; they provide the content. The ID might still have to put in a lot of work to get the content into an appropriate format for the eLearning, but the actual content is often provided by someone other than the designer.

The developers are the ones responsible for the technical side. They code the eLearning module, game, or simulation. The developer and ID might start this process by creating storyboards or wireframes that lay out the flow of the eLearning. If any part of the eLearning uses video, a script is needed as well.

In some companies, the ID also does the development, possibly using an authoring tool to create eLearning.

Implementation and evaluation

When the phases of ADDIE are completed sequentially, the first time any learners see or use the eLearning is in the implement phase. Where iterative development is adopted, learners or user-testers might see early prototypes and offer feedback, which the IDs and developers use to improve successive iterations. In either case, the implementation or course delivery is a major milestone.

Some types of eLearning require that learners be taught to use it; others are self-explanatory. If needed, this training is part of the implementation phase.

Finally, the eLearning is evaluated. It’s possible to evaluate both the learners—assessing what they’ve learned, what they remember, and whether it has improved their job performance—and the eLearning itself. Learners might fill out “smile sheets” to evaluate the eLearning itself: Was the course easy to use, clear, complete, useful? Managers and IDs might also consider longer-term evaluation of eLearning, watching performance metrics to assess whether the training has solved the problem it was created to solve or accomplished other stated goals.

The specific tasks in each phase of ADDIE add up to well-designed, coherent eLearning that is carefully targeted to learners and business goals.