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ATD Blog

In Defense of ADDIE

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

For decades, instructional designers have effectively used the ADDIE model for instructional design and training. ADDIE is named after its five phases: analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation. Over time, other models have been introduced, claiming to be faster, more flexible, and more responsive to client needs. Yet according to ATD’s research, ADDIE is still the most widely used model in the profession—and that’s no accident. Other models add important considerations for an instructional designer, but ADDIE is still the workhorse and the foundation for all models that came after it. To those who wish to trash ADDIE, here are some arguments in its defense:

When they say ADDIE is too old.

ADDIE was introduced in the mid-1970s (by Florida State University for the US Army) specifically for instructional projects and curriculum development. Most of the newer models, like Agile, were created to break (software) product development into small increments that minimize upfront planning and design and have been retrofitted to apply to learning projects. ADDIE has been around the longest because it was made for our field and still works. Even in Leaving ADDIE for SAM (2012), the pivotal book that asked trainers to question the tried-and-true ADDIE process after decades in use, Michael Allen said about ADDIE, “What process wouldn’t include those [five] steps?”

When they say ADDIE is too slow.

Agile models spin off small chunks of the final deliverable to be presented at spaced intervals for stakeholder input; the idea of getting the work product in front of reviewers and stakeholders early in the process is a solid one. Yet, almost every trainer has a story of a time when, asked to produce training more quickly, the result was less than optimal. The investment of time before delivery ensures the product is relevant and well received, ultimately adding to your credibility. You don’t have to get bogged down in ADDIE’s steps. There is no need to get stuck in analysis paralysis or to spend an overly long time creating strong learning objectives. Move briskly through the steps, but skip a step entirely at your peril.


When they say ADDIE is too linear.

ADDIE is based on a traditional project management model—often referred to as a waterfall approach—where one process flows to the next sequentially. Proponents of other models claim ADDIE’s downstream process flow doesn’t adjust to changing circumstances. But we know this isn’t true. ADDIE may be illustrated in a linear manner, but it is not meant to be performed that way. Consider evaluation, which—despite coming at the end of the acronym—happens in every step: from determining how we will know whether our program is successful and what we might need to measure as a baseline to designing assessments that are aligned with our learning outcomes and piloting our offerings. People who feel ADDIE is too linear may be applying it in too linear a fashion rather than simply ensuring that the tasks associated with each phase are done, no matter the order.


When they say ADDIE is less responsive to changing client needs.

With newer models, stakeholder feedback on what’s been delivered in earlier iterations improves the final product. But every stage of ADDIE has outputs for evaluation. ADDIE reviewers and stakeholders provide feedback on goals, objectives, media selection, assessment plans, and learning assets developed during each step of the process. Even a model with multiple iterations must, at some point, stop soliciting input and deliver the completed product.

While I’ve been defending ADDIE here, no process is really 100 percent ADDIE or 100 percent Agile. Organizations are complicated, and the conditions we work in aren’t ideal. It’s simplistic to ask designers to choose a model rather than applying the best parts of each to become a better training project manager. Any process should begin with desired results, gather input at every step, encourage new ideas, and avoid developing materials that would be costly or time-consuming to redo. ADDIE is—and always has been—such a process.

About the Author

Sophie Oberstein has been a learning and organization development professional for more than 25 years at public and private organizations, including Weight Watchers (now WW), Columbia University Medical Center, Redwood City, and Citibank. Oberstein is an adjunct professor for New York University’s learning design certificate program. Her latest book, Troubleshooting for Trainers (ATD Press), describes 45 challenges in instructional design and how to overcome them.

You can reach her on LinkedIn at or via her website at