Learning Science Made Easy: What You Need to Know About ADDIE & Her Agile Alter Ego

Associations are wonderful places to work if you enjoy learning new skills on the job. You can go from having no project management experience to overseeing an LMS or AMS implementation. With no marketing experience on your resume, you can find yourself running membership or event marketing campaigns. You might have fallen into association work, but you’ve risen through the ranks by figuring things out as you go, learning from others, and dedicating time to professional development.

Since many of you work on education teams but don’t have a background in instructional design or adult learning, you may want a primer or refresher on learning science basics. Our Learning Science Made Easy series is meant for you. We’re sharing the fundamental principles used to design courses and education programs. So far, we’ve covered Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction and Bloom’s Taxonomy. Now, we’re turning to the most commonly used instructional design model, ADDIE.

The five phases of ADDIE

The Center for Educational Technology at Florida State University designed ADDIE in the 1970s for the U.S. Army, which explains its linear, “forward march” type of structure. With ADDIE as a framework, courses and education programs are created by following five phases in sequence: Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate. Let’s look at each phase.



In the first phase, you get the lay of the land by assessing and understanding the need and objectives for the course—you could use the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy to develop these learning objectives. This assessment includes:

•    Training needs analysis: competency gaps, problems you need to solve, desired learner behavior, skills and knowledge needed, and metrics to assess the learner’s success in applying new skills/knowledge.

•    Audience analysis: demographics, background information, capabilities, existing knowledge, preferences, and motivations.

•    Potential delivery methods.

•    Resources required and available to deliver training.

•    Existing constraints, including timeline and budget.


Create the course or program outline, including learning objectives, content, exercises, media, delivery methods, and assessment approach. Decide on your success metrics for the learner and for the program.

Here’s a tip from the experts: take a learner assessment-first approach to program design. Start with the end in mind. Know how you will measure the learner’s mastery of competencies taught in the course so you teach what you test. Skipping ahead, don’t confuse learner assessments with the E in ADDIE. ADDIE’s E stands for program evaluation, not learner evaluation.

The deliverable for this phase is usually a storyboard or prototype.


Now, for the fun, this is where your course comes to life.

•    Write lesson plans.
•    Create and assemble content.
•    Record videos.
•    Create graphics.
•    Develop exercises, solo and interactive activities, and quizzes.

For online courses, you enter and build out content in your authoring app.

Testing is essential. Proofread the content and do trial runs. Ensure everything works as intended, providing the best learner experience possible. Make changes based on the testers’ feedback.


Upload the course to your LMS. Prepare supplementary materials. Send out engagement boxes, if applicable.

If it’s a synchronous course, finalize instructions and procedures for instructors or facilitators. Direct instructors to your train-the-trainer program.

When all the check boxes have been ticked, roll out the course to your audience. Before the course begins, guide learners to the resources that will help them succeed with their online learning program.


Return to the course’s learning objectives. Using LMS data and course evaluations from learners, evaluate how well the program met the objectives. Did they master the competencies taught? Did learners improve their performance? Did they find value in the program?

Also, evaluate the program creation and delivery process by doing a project retrospective. Document lessons learned so you can improve the process the next time you develop a new program.

ADDIE doesn’t end once you launch the course. As long as the course is in your catalog, you must continue to gather instructor and learner feedback, evaluate the program, and return to earlier ADDIE phases to make necessary improvements.

The U.S. Navy tweaked ADDIE for this reason. They call their version PADDIE+M because it includes a planning and a maintenance phase. The Planning phase involves working on project goals, budget, timeline, deliverables, and roles and responsibilities. The Maintenance phase is the continual evaluation and improvement of the program.


Why and how instructional designers have added Agile to ADDIE

ADDIE originated as a traditional waterfall approach to course development and delivery. Waterfall is a term used for projects that proceed linearly phase by phase: requirements gathering, design, development, testing, and deployment—you can see the similarities to ADDIE. You only move to the next phase when you complete the previous phase.

But over the years, instructional designers decided that the E in ADDIE shouldn’t be reserved for the end. Instead, they prefer to review and catch things as they go. If you wait until the end to test and evaluate, it’s more costly to go back and fix things.

Instructional designers adopted an Agile approach to ADDIE. Agile is another project management method that originated with software developers and is now used for all kinds of projects. With Agile, a project is broken into cycles (sprints) for each feature set: requirements, design, prototype development, and testing. You repeat the cycle until you get it right, then you move on to the next feature set.

With the Agile methodology, you adopt rapid prototyping. You could do this module by module or create a minimum viable learning product, testing and evaluating as you go.

ADDIE with continual Evaluation is a useful framework for developing courses and other education programs. Adopting an Agile approach to ADDIE and other organizational objectives is even better. The Agile mindset will help you and your association adjust strategies and tactics while making progress in an ever-changing environment.

learning science
adult learning
instructional design
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