Agile Instructional Design

But first, a few words about ADDIE.

Next to religion, politics, and whether you’re a PC or a MAC user, ADDIE, with its sequential steps of analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation, tends to arouse a lot of fervor in instructional designers.  ADDIE’s an important model and for a discussion of its history and morphing, see the always excellent site, Big Dog Little Dog’s Performance Juxtaposition.

However, time constraints, client logistics, and the natures of dynamic organizations often make ADDIE (at least in its older incarnations) untenable. For many instructional designers, ADDIE’s become synonymous with a bygone era with a much slower pace , though arguably ADDIE was never intended to be so rigidly applied.

Agile design is an alternative approach that has a lot of merit.

Agile has its origins in the software development industry, famous for its rapid cycle times. Agile embraces the idea that development occurs in steps and iteratively, as analysis inputs are collected from busy cross-functional teams. It’s about flexible responses to a changing picture of what the situation on the ground is really like.

The  important difference between Agile and ADDIE is that in Agile design, recommendations, preliminary mockups, and pieces of a project are shared with clients and target audiences early to see if they’ll fly. Adjustments are made throughout the design and development process rather than after development and/or implementation.

Although ADDIE is an important foundational model, I think that Agile design reduces the risk of spending a lot of time creating a very polished product that ultimately isn’t very useful. Agile turns clients and potential learners into active participants throughout the design process, which makes it more likely that your solution will actually be integrated into an organization’s workflow.

Whether you’re using Agile or ADDIE, there are some  important tenets to stick to:

  • Make sure everyone has a shared vision about what the goal is and how to measure success
  • Ask first whether an instructional solution is really the one that’s needed
  • Think like a designer (have a systematic, but creative, approach that’s open to solutions from analogous fields)
  • Make pilot testing part of your project plan
  • Stay hungry to do better


Clark, D. (2011). ADDIE Model. Retrieved September, 29, 2012, from

Unger, K., & Novak, J. (2011). Excerpt: Mobile game development – going into production. Retrieved March 20, 2012 from


8 responses to “Agile Instructional Design

  1. I’m a long-term fan of agile/emergent development, especially in software development and have written about processes. With this background, I have to disagree somewhat with your first tenet re: “shared vision about what the goal is”.

    I think this largely misses one of the major advantages of agile development. i.e. that it allows you to learn much more about the requirements and how to solve them than you could have ever known at the start of the process. Almost by definition, the shared vision will evolve and change.

    • Thanks for your comment, David. I didn’t anchor “the shared vision of the goal” to the start of the process in the post. Having said that, I do think that a high level, shared view of the big picture goals is important at the beginning with a willingness to change if needs on the ground change.
      Often, you’ll see a request for a solution, “We need training so learners understand x.” I think designers and clients (whether internal or external) need to come together to discuss what clients want learners to be able do, and how that fits organizational goals. Typically, there’s lots of fuzzy language about what needs are (because it’s a brainstorming stage and that’s a good thing), so asking “what does it look like when learners understand x?”, “what changes about how they do their jobs?” is a necessary conversation. If a client’s vision about that changes, the designer better have a shared understanding about that change.

      • Diane, I take your point, and agree with it. It’s not about an extreme version of “no shared goal”, as you say there has to be some level of agreement.

        The trouble is that – at least in the areas where my experience arises from – a shared vision usually means a single pre-defined goal. Perhaps because the ADDIE (or telological) approach to process is so ingrained.

  2. David, Diane, anyone else with Agile ID experience:
    I’m working on a dissertation about Agile practices in ID through Capella University, and I’m hoping a few of you out there would be interested enough to help me out. I’m looking for a few IDs who have used Agile on ID projects (specficially, online learning projects) to field test instruments I have created. In reality, that simply means reviewing them and providing me with some feedback for improvement. They are short – a 10 question questionnaire, a 5 question survey… Would anyone be willing to help?
    Kiersten Yocum

    • Hi Kiersten-Sorry I was in the weeds on a project and did not see this until now. Sure, I’d be willing to review a survey and questionnaire. DM me on Twitter (@Callooh) and I’ll give you contact info.

  3. Sorry Kiersten, my experience with Agile approaches hasn’t been with ID.

  4. Reblogged this on Belma's Appiness and commented:
    Interesting article on combining ADDIE & Agile for Instructional Design.

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