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Dear ADDIE: It’s Not Me, It’s You

It’s a brand new year: time for fresh starts and resolutions. Mine? I’m getting rid of the old. ADDIE, the time has come for you to know exactly where we stand. Yes, I see your blog posts. I know you have been on my social media feed. You struggle to get my attention in job postings and articles. Bluntly speaking, lose my number.

Sure, twenty or even five years ago, you were relevant: a cutesy little acronym that would unite all L&D professionals in a tidy process of Analyse, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate. Marching in mnemonic unison, we could build bountiful mountains of quality learning that are perfect in meeting business outcomes, and end with pristine Level 1-4 Kirkpatrick Evals. *sparkle*

These promises quickly fall flat. The more we try to shoehorn learning development into neat and well-groomed steps, the more time we waste waiting, documenting, and tracking. I know you want to argue that ADDIE is simply good project management, except it isn’t. It assumes there is always a straight path to solution. This does not allow for insights and innovation along the way.

Consider the following true story: Once upon a time, we were building a piece of e-Learning that happily started out with performance outcomes, learning objectives, high-level design, plus a storyboard. Although the dev team had been involved in all of the initial work, when presented with the storyboard, they felt that a vertical layout would be better than a horizontal one. They were right…except no one wanted to change the design. This would mean going back to change the previous project documentation and contacting SMEs. We stuck to “the plan”.

It cannot be ignored that ADDIE forces adherence to the gospel of documentation that was signed off weeks before development. Just like family road trips, it does not matter who is tired, bored, has to pee or barf. We are going to make it through Alpha, Beta, and Gold testing, and we will like it, damnit!

It begs the question: Why can’t graphic design work on an initial look and feel at the same time that IDs are drafting learning objectives? If these tasks are consecutive, graphic design is confined by the ID work. If they work collaboratively, you have a symbiotic relationship and better design thinking. It also pre-empts roadblocks.

It’s true that ADDIE was once helpful when teams worked in different ways. Today, any L&D department not using WOL or collaboration tools like Slack or Trello is doomed. How many hours are spent building status updates and emails to multiple people, dozens of times? One central project location and open-air virtual communication builds transparency. Everyone is one the same page.

Another pitfall: with ADDIE, Evaluation is a final step. I’ve said it before: when I go to the doctor, I want a diagnosis, not an autopsy. Waiting until the end of a deployment to evaluate gives no opportunity for course correction. If we truly want optimal design, evaluation must become an iterative part of development. Launch in sections and monitor usage and adoption. Then refine based on data tracking. Infinitely better than deploying a ton of content only to find out it stunk.

I’m certainly not the first one to think this way. For years, people have been ranting about ADDIE. The very, very, smart Tom Gram was writing about this conflict seven years ago. Yet, ADDIE persists in organisations as de rigeur. Sadly, often as a giant banner proclaiming that their thinking is a decade out of date. Now, I use an anti-ADDIE, pro-Agile opinion like a secret handshake; it tells me whether you “get it” or not.

So ADDIE, whilst I may have you listed under my skills and experience, there’s no future for us. As L&D shifts into a period of disruption and evolution, I cannot be held back. It’s not me, it’s you.