After almost 30 years of aligning our eLearning development process with the phases of ADDIE, the eLearning company I work for recently changed our language to describe a more human-centered design process that we call Discover to Evolve.

ADDIE (Analysis–Design–Development–Implementation–Evaluate) did the job for years, as it brought rigor to the creative process we routinely engage in with our clients. ADDIE’s nouns laid out a clear path of milestones from “Here’s what we need” to “How do we get there?” Nevertheless, we were not immune to the many criticisms levelled at ADDIE—for instance, that it’s too rigid, takes too long and doesn’t allow for necessary changes along the way. So we tried Agile and SAM (Successive Approximation Model) processes, but those models either proved too fluid or promised too many sprints to be feasible for our clients’ fixed eLearning budgets and development schedules.

As a result, we persisted with ADDIE, actively working to build in opportunities for collaboration, review rounds, and refinement. And yet the language of ADDIE continued to bother us, primarily for its focus on products and systems, rather than people.

In our role as eLearning consultants, for instance, it’s true that we “analyze” our partners’ training needs but we’re really talking about learning from subject matter specialists in the Analysis phase in order to support other people in their workplace roles. Imagine how it must feel for an external L&D group to announce that they are undertaking an “analysis” of your subject matter expertise and materials?

What’s more, we spent much of the last few years working on several beautifully soul-expanding projects that involved deep listening to people. One in particular involved interviewing Inuit elders and knowledge holders in Northern Canada, documenting their individual lived experiences and community histories, and co-creating a thought-provoking learning experience that asks us to unlearn much of what we were taught about Canadian history in textbooks, and to consider instead the lived experience of people whose stories we know so little about.

So when we couldn’t find a model that uses respectful, person-first language to describe a human-centered eLearning process, we adapted our ADDIE language and phases to describe a process we call Discover to Evolve.


For each eLearning project, we start with discovery, which involves taking the time to learn everything we can about the workplace, the topic at hand, and especially the people who are interested in the topic. During this phase, we establish clear communication protocols and provide a preliminary project schedule to ensure that we have regular opportunities to listen, ask questions, and share insights (and discoveries!) with each other.

I like that the verb “discover” promises both surprises for and humility on the part of instructional designers, while reassuring subject matter specialists about to our intentions. Nobody—or their work—will be analyzed against their will in this phase.

Define and envision

Building on what we learn in the discovery phase, we collaborate with our partners to define each project’s specific requirements, such as performance objectives, technical parameters, and branding guidelines. A learning experience (LX) design plan summarizes our understanding of those requirements and proposes an engagement strategy, structure, and sequence of information, while color mock-ups help our collaborators envision what the new eLearning can look like.

Defining what we need to do and envisioning what the solution could look like can only happen after we discover the many considerations that every workplace training project carries with it. I like both the precision and the creativity that the verb combo of define + envision pledges to provide.


We then document the information and/or activities to be offered on-screen in a storyboard (for digital courses), a video script (for training videos), or a performance support outline (for reference guides, posters, and/or infographics).

I like the etymology of this verb: to “document” comes from Latin docere, which used to mean “to show, teach, and cause to know”: clearly still an apt meaning of the word.

Design and develop

Next, we design and develop the information by formatting, illustrating, and/or programming the storyboard, script, or performance support outline. Note that the process necessarily allows for multiple (but contained) review rounds and updates as we go. The end result of this is a fully accessible learning solution that aligns with the learning experience design plan.

I appreciate the intransitive meaning of the verb “develop”, which is to “become known, come to light”: again, an old meaning that still applies to our work in L&D .


We then deliver the online learning solution for testing in the organization’s learning management system or hosting environment, and also provide all related source files.

I love that “deliver” has a connotation of serving our clients, which we strive to do with evidence-based advice and solutions: again, it’s less about “implementing” a solution than sharing it with an organization who needs it.


Finally, to ensure that the learning solution will continue to be effective, we encourage our partners to gather feedback (using Dr. Will Thalheimer’s Learning Transfer Evaluation Model whenever possible) and to plan for the inevitable updates the solution will need. We also host a project close meeting to gather feedback on the effectiveness of the process and identify lessons learned and opportunities for enhancing the work we do together.

I especially like that the verb “evolve” implies that the humans who created the online learning experience–as well as the process they followed–will change, just as they hope their learners will.

Keeping humans at the center of the development process

Throughout our “Discover to Evolve” process, using person-first verbs rather than product-first nouns feels better aligned with our values of collaboration, human-centered (vs. technology-driven) design, open-source solutions, and multi-disciplinary project teams.

Speaking of human-centered hearts and design processes, please check out a free, digital toolkit designed to support resilience in post-secondary educators and their students. Thriving in the Classroom offers the latest research, resources, and learning activities to help educators promote personal, academic, community, and career resilience in their students and themselves.

A small disclaimer: neither I nor the company I work for has a financial interest in promoting Thriving in the Classroom, an open educational resource, just a desire to extend the reach of a lovely, public-facing and human-centered online learning solution.