SAM: A Rapid Design And Development Model
Viktoria Kurpas/

SAM: A Rapid Design And Development Model

The concept of Instructional Systems Design (ISD), which is rooted in cognitivism, has been around since the 1950s and was first developed as a way to systemically organize instructional material. Previous to ISD, teaching was generally "piecemealed" and fixed within behaviorist learning theory. Behaviorism at its core is more concerned about the output of performance and less interested in the cognitive processes that enhance the learning and retention of new information. Due to the shortcoming of behaviorism, cognitive Psychologist Robert Gagne introduced the systems concept which was the earliest incarnation of systematically structuring learning. The systems concept proposed that learning was sequential and more time should be placed on the design of the instructional material to ensure positive long-term outcomes. Gagne came up with the nine events of instruction as a way to organize educational material into a structured cognitive framework.

Shortly after, the ADDIE model was developed by a team of psychologists at Florida State University as a practitioner's guide to organize and design training modalities. The model originally contained several steps within the five original (analyze, design, develop, implement and evaluate). The idea of ADDIE is to complete each step before moving on to subsequent steps. This model has served as the foundation of Instructional Design projects, but it often criticized as being rigid and too linear in nature. An issue often raised with ADDIE is that the process is slow to evaluate training effectiveness and projects can take an excessive amount of time to reach their intended audience due to the waterfall nature of execution. ADDIE has evolved since the early 1990s in an attempt to be more agile, but the sequential nature of the steps still presents limitations. Rapid prototyping has gained traction within Instructional Design as a response to the limiting factors of ADDIE. Specifically, the Successive Approximation Model (SAM) developed by Michael Allen of Allen Interactions was developed as a response to the boxed-in nature of the ADDIE process. SAM serves as a rapid design and development model that uses shortened agile steps to create holistic and flexible projects.

Preparation Phase

Similar to the ADDIE model, which begins with the Analysis phase, SAM begins with what’s called the Preparation phase. This phase is employed to collect background information on learners. This is a rapid phase that generally consists of examining the strengths and weaknesses of learners, learning about inherent prior knowledge, and establishing the overall goals of the project.

The preparation phase concludes with something called the SAVY start. The SAVY start serves as an opportunity for all stakeholders to gather and begin brainstorming on the design of training and its potential instructional modalities. The SAVY start is a session where the team will rapidly rotate design ideas. Gathered from various design ideas, prototypes are developed that are unpolished and void of interactivity. These prototypes are typically sketches and rough storyboards that serve as the backbone for further design sessions after the SAVY start concludes. Whether it be one day or one week, this meeting should consist of brainstorming, rapid prototyping, rinsing and repeating. At the conclusion of the SAVY start, the team should come away with potential designs for each content area.

Iterative Design Phase

As the project moves into the iterative design phase, the team generally becomes smaller and is narrowed down to Subject Matter Experts and project designers/developers. This phase consists of project planning and additional designing. The project planning phase should always take place after the SAVY start and consist of setting project timelines, budgets (time and money), and the assigning of a task that needs to be completed. For instance, certain team members may be responsible for scriptwriting, designing the instructional plan, while others are responsible for the actual development of the training collateral.

Once project planning is complete, the team can now move forward with additional designing. This is when project design decisions are made and the instructional components become more polished and tangible. The additional design phase will use the initial design decisions made within the SAVY start and further iterate until they have an agreed-upon design proof. For any one content area, the design team should strive to create three potential designs. The reason for three is so the team doesn’t become fixated on one design that can potentially be void of necessary instructional components. Basically, it stretches the team to be creative and think beyond the obvious design solutions. This can be tough at first, but it will serve to enhance your overall design in the end.

Iterative Development Phase

Once the team has an agreed-upon design, the project then moves into a constant loop of developing, implementing, and evaluating. It is important within this phase to develop smaller chunks of the completed project to ensure you always have something usable for end-users to provide feedback on. This is one of the biggest differentiators with SAM. Unlike ADDIE, which waits until the end of the project to receive feedback, SAM always has something usable that learners can use and interact with at all stages of development.

Alpha, Beta, Gold Release

The Alpha stage serves as the first version of a fully complete project. At this stage, all components of the course are useable from beginning to end. This includes learner interactions in the form of media and formative feedback loops. At this stage, no major course flaws should be discovered, but it is still common for minor editing opportunities to come up.

The beta and gold release stages are the final components within SAM. The beta is a modified version of the alpha based on feedback and final review. It is not uncommon for the beta release to be the gold version of the project. The beta serves as a final opportunity to review and fix the project based on feedback from the alpha phase. Once final corrections have been made, the project moves into the gold release and is ready for full deployment.

To conclude, SAM allows designers to test their course early and often and be agile to revisions based on user feedback. This constant feedback loop serves as the catalyst for a more cohesive project that is flexible to the often influx of learning objectives.