Learning Methodologies 101: ADDIE vs AGILE vs SAM

Learning methodologies work as a blueprint for Instructional Systems Design (ISD). They help in developing seamless instructional experiences that make sure efficient transmission of knowledge and skills.

Over the years the three most effective methodologies in ISD have been:

  1. ADDIE (Analyze, Design, Development, Implement, Evaluate)
  2. AGILE
  3. SAM (Successive Approximation Model)

In this article we will:

  • Discuss the important features of the three learning methodologies
  • Analyze the key pros and cons of the three learning methodologies


Developed by Florida State University for the U.S. Army, the ADDIE is a Waterfall approach that allows the teams to follow a series of steps at each phase of:

  • Analyzing the inputs
  • Designing the solution schema
  • Developing the learning intervention based on the solution schema
  • Implementing the learning intervention
  • Evaluating the outcome of the learning intervention

Note that the learning outcome comes for the review only during the last phase (Evaluation), and that’s where things started to get weird.

Although simple enough to increase with speed and quality, this method found its limitation with the inability to backtrack easily. Most of the elements learnt during the implementation phase were difficult to integrate resulting in a start over than a backtrack which meant more time and effort.

As a quick fix, similar methodologies  emerged in this area such as RAD (Rapid Application Development) that gathered requirements and used critical stakeholders as focus groups to develop and iterate prototyping. Although this mitigated the key backtrack issues, it created a resultant problem of unending prototyping called as death spirals.


In order to overcome the issues of the Waterfall approach, a group of seventeen thinkers came up with a manifesto that focused on four core principles:

  1. Prioritizing learners and experience over processes and tools
  2. Developing a minimum viable product than documenting the full-scale program
  3. Fluidly changing to variations in the requirements that emerge during reviews
  4. Adapting to the scope enhancements with the clients

We now know this approach as Agile method.

This approach recommends that smaller chunks are completely finished through locked-down teams in a fixed period (known as sprints). The output is not a prototype but a practical product—the deliverables are complete, usable components.


Created by Allen Interactions, SAM relies upon the Agile philosophy to focus on an iterative process of analyze, design and develop. Using this basic, iterative approach, the ideas and assumptions of the focus groups are discussed, remodeled, and checked before full-scale development thus creating a minimum viable product in less time.

A typical SAM method has following phases:

1. Preparation Phase:

Here you gather information and get all the background knowledge. This is generally a one-time and a quick phase.

2. Iterative Design Phase:

This phase kicks off with the Savvy Start, where an initial team brainstorming establishes the base outcome of the project. It is similar to a project kickoff meeting. This is an iterative phase and the designs keep bouncing around the team members and stakeholders till everyone agrees upon a final design.

3. Iterative Development Phase:

Here the team loops through development, implementation, and evaluation. The key stages include a finalized design proof, Alpha and Beta, before finally rolling out the Gold.

As the instructional product is being developed, you continually analyze and evaluate, so that at any point if a change needs to occur, it can happen quickly and limit any risk of the project moving out of budget or time.



With a feedback loop and upfront results this approach recognized reviewing iterations during the development and not after deployment.

SAM’s popularity lies in the fact that this framework can adapt to the scale of the development/ project.

A simple project with less complex learning interventions can have a simple Analyze → Design  → Develop approach, while a complex project may adopt an extended approach with as much as eight phases in it

So how does SAM wins ADDIE?

ADDIE follows a linear path with minimal possibility to revisit earlier phases thus making the development process less adaptive to changes emerging at a later stage. This may give a protracted timeline for incorporating changes.

With SAM, each stage benefits from iterative reviews thus encouraging the rapid acceptance of the final outcome.


Although it largely depends on the scenarios, I believe that SAM is a better approach that ADDIE for training and development for the following reasons:

  1. Iterative reviews at every stage increases user acceptance
  2. Further updates to original learning design is possible
  3. Stakeholder feedback is incorporated during the design phase
  4. Time required for an update is lower than an ADDIE approach







4 thoughts on “Learning Methodologies 101: ADDIE vs AGILE vs SAM”

  1. Dear Kawstov

    Great Article with clarity

    I have a different opinion of the ADDIE model. each step of the ADDIE is iterative in the sense that there is a PDCA cycle for each of the steps some models .

    Kindly review and feed me back to clarify

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