ADDIE: The Instructional Designers’ Best Friend

ADDIE: The Instructional Designers’ Best Friend
Summary: After you have been asked to create an online course, and before you let panic set in, reference the ADDIE course development process for guaranteed success.

It’s Tried And True For A Reason!

Being tasked with the development of a new online course can be daunting—even if it’s in your job description. You are being trusted to take valuable information from a Subject Matter Expert (SME) and transform it into an exciting, interactive, and engaging eLearning course. What’s more is that you have five other requests sitting in the queue and you’re not sure where to start.

There are many variations of the course development process, but over time, experts have found that the most effective and comprehensive structure is the tried and true ADDIE process. It’s tried and true for a reason, folks! This iterative process is your best friend as an Instructional Designer (ID) because you can see exactly which stage each course is in and where you are going next. Read on if you are ready for the ADDIE road map. But first, a bonus step: the initiation phase.


When an SME approaches you with the desire for an online course and you don’t have any details other than the fact that there is education that occurs in person (or, in some cases, is non-existent) that now needs to happen through a computer, you will likely have a bunch of questions swirling in your head. For me, the classic questions come to mind: who, what, where, when, and how? The best way to address these unknowns is to initiate a meeting with all the stakeholders.

The purpose of this initial meeting is to discover what the desired and expected outcomes of the course are. Use this meeting as a way to collect key information about the course, such as the target audience, learning objectives, and timelines. After this meeting, you should walk away with a refined direction and an idea of what will be expected of you and the final eLearning course. Depending on the SMEs and other stakeholders, an additional meeting or two may be required, though as the ID this can be decided at your discretion.


Once you have a bird’s-eye view of what your SMEs are looking for, you can begin to analyze which gaps your eLearning course is going to fill in. This stage illuminates the instructional problems and goals so that they can be appropriately filled. During your analysis, be sure to consider the viewpoints of all stakeholders as well as your audience. Though you want to ensure your SMEs are happy with your eventual final product, you are also advocating for the learners who will be on the receiving end of the education you design. Therefore, analyze with both viewpoints at the forefront.

As an eLearning professional, you have valuable knowledge, so don’t be afraid to be honest when your analysis reveals important information for SMEs to ruminate on. As you begin to analyze what solutions and which pedagogical methods may be best, general design ideas may begin to come forward in your mind. At this point, you are ready to move on to the next stage.


There is no limit to your design ideas. While you may not be able to choose every idea for your project, the very act of brainstorming and designing is crucial. This is when you need to get your creative juices flowing. This includes envisioning color palettes, characters, scenarios, dialogues, interactive buttons, photos, and more. Be open to a variety of design possibilities. Since the content of each course will differ, so should your design—what works for one course might not work for another. Remain agile and up to date with the latest eLearning trends and technology. Of course, if your budget is limited then this provides the perfect opportunity to leverage existing resources, and there’s no shame in that!

During the design phase, you’ll also want to give some time to contemplate what the course evaluation will look like. How will you incorporate formative and summative assessments? The earlier you start thinking about your assessments, the better. You should already be considering how to integrate your assessments into your course design. If you leave this part too late, your evaluations might seem like an "add-on" and learners may not be motivated enough to complete them. The evaluation should be well-incorporated into the course, which means it should be prioritized during the design process.

When you are getting ready to leave the design stage, plan to have a general blueprint or storyboard in hand. At this point, it is recommended that your SMEs approve your design strategy and development proposal. Implementing this as part of your process will prevent misunderstandings between you and your SME. The last thing you want is to send your SME the final product to be met only with confusion or surprise.


Once you have designed your learning solutions, it’s time to create and assemble. This is where you bring your outlines and/or static storyboards to life. An important caveat to this stage is that you need to have your content before you head into development. It could be received while you are in development mode, but that will be trickier to navigate. Regardless, there is no development phase without content. Depending on your SME engagement, your development timeline may be impacted.

During this stage, you can also request intermittent feedback from your SME. Giving your SME an opportunity to share their thoughts as you build your course or prototype before moving onto implementation will continue to facilitate their buy-in and maintain their confidence in your abilities. If you do decide to incorporate their feedback, give them reasonable but hard deadlines to speak up before moving forward.

It cannot be overstated that you must take your time in the development phase. This is important because this is where a bulk of your work will be produced, and what comes out of development is moved onward to implementation. Most notably, keep your design decisions learner-centered as your course evolves. You want to create courses that are responsive, eye-catching, and informative. Always be mindful of the User Experience.


Now, you are ready to disseminate your course. The implementation phase determines how, when, and to whom your course will be distributed. Depending on the desires of your SMEs or processes at your organization this can take many different approaches. As an ID, your job is to make sure that all the components of your eLearning course are ready to go when you are called upon. Note that this phase presupposes that your eLearning course has already passed the necessary quality assurance tests.


Realistically speaking, evaluation is an ongoing process and it certainly should not be started at the end of the course development process. The goal here is to have some quantifiable data that demonstrates the success of your course and whether or not it is meeting the learning objectives. Your embedded formative assessments have been like guideposts up until this point, but now it’s time for the bigger picture. For a large-scale evaluation, this can include things like pre and post-surveys, or perhaps one final evaluation will be sufficient.

As mentioned before, these decisions are made earlier on in the process such as in the initiation and the design phases. At this phase, you should be focusing on collating all your evidence and parsing it so that it tells a story to the stakeholders. In an ideal world, the story is that the course you created has inspired a change in behavior in a concrete and measurable way, and was so well-received that learners want to see more!


There is a method to the madness that can be course development and it has a name: ADDIE. Once you’ve been tasked with developing a course, the best thing you can do is see it through the ADDIE process. Seeing your course through this process will reap rewards from both SMEs and learners alike. And the best thing about ADDIE is that it’s flexible, not stringent. For instance, you might have to move back and forth between design and development a few times and that’s okay. The point is that you have a structure and way forward. So, the next time you are faced with the overwhelming but noble (pun intended: the name "Addie" literally means "noble") task of creating a brand new eLearning course, train your brain to think A-D-D-I-E.