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Book Review: Leaving ADDIE for SAM

— by Bill Cushard

Learning development

Many of my recent blog posts have been about learning experience (LX) design and how our designs can be improved through the proper application of action steps that keep the process as simple as possible. Some of my posts have even criticized existing, popular design models, like ADDIE. So, when I saw Leaving ADDIE for SAM: An Agile Model for Developing the Best Learning Experiences, by Michael Allen and Richard Sites, I knew I had to read it. I am always looking for ways to improve how I deliver learning experiences to my organization and reading books like this keeps my skills fresh. Here are a few things I took away from the book that I think you will find valuable.

Take a Fresh Look at What You Do

The author, Michael Allen, is a leading e-learning service provider and talks repeatedly in the book about delivering learning products that meet budget, time, and other constraints. Specifically, the author does a nice job setting up the problem that many design models have: that they do not facilitate the delivery of “a product” that must be completed on a budget and within deadlines that stakeholders need. A learning experience (LX) designer, who works for an organization internally, may see that perspective and think, “That doesn’t apply to me. I am not delivering products to a clients like that. It’s different.” Since most people who will read this book are likely to be LX designers who deliver learning programs to an internal audience at their organization, I recommend that those same people put themselves in the mindset that they are designing learning products to clients who hire them to perform a service. I believe LX designers will get more out of the book if they do.

One Size Does Not Fit All, and SAM Knows It

When I started to read the book, I expected to read about another new model, trying to replace ADDIE that would just be another model. Ho hum. However, I was pleasantly surprised as I read Chapters 4 and 5 which outlined two SAM models about which I thought as I read, “OK. I think these could work really well.” Each of the SAM models are designed for a specific type of project because not all projects are the same. One of the models is for smaller teams and projects, and one is for larger, complex design projects involving multiple stakeholders. SAM seems to address the varying needs of team sizes. Whereas ADDIE assumes a one size fits all model.

I work on a small team on which we most often create and implement LX designers on our own. However, we could soon be designing learning programs for clients, which would require larger teams of stakeholders. Each of the two SAM models in the book would work quite well for each specific situation. I like that flexibility. But flexibility is not all I like about SAM.

Prototype, Launch, Iterate. Repeat!

What I like most about SAM is that it is a true iterative model that produces prototypes and encourages doing the least amount of work possible in order to deliver an early prototype that allows stakeholders (which includes learners) an opportunity to visualize the course instead of reviewing design documents. My favorite line from the book is that early stages of other design models exist to product design documents, but SAM exists to produce learning products early so they can be evaluated early and changed based on early feedback.

SAM presupposes a collaborative process of designing learning by producing learning prototypes that can be reviewed more than once, which I think is critical in a job that takes so long that stakeholders can sometimes wonder what an LX designer does all day long.

What I Wish the Book Had

What I found glaringly missing from the book are examples, stories, cases of SAM’s application. Presumably the author, in order to run his business successfully, was unhappy with existing learning design models and developed SAM as a means for improving his client projects. I think SAM would have more credibility for me, if the book contained stories of successes and failures in developing and using SAM on real client project work.

A second thing that would have made this book even better would be if there was an appendix that contained templates for some of the tools that the author suggests using. For example, on page 43, several tools are listed, including a Savvy Start Summary Report and a Content Development Plan. However, based on the description of each, it would not be difficult to create these tools.

A Focus on Delivering the Product

Overall, SAM seems like an excellent learning design model for two reasons. First, the model is simple to understand, which is to say SAM is simple enough that I believe you will be able to visualize applying it in your own work. Second, the model focuses on delivering product (our learning designs) quickly, so our clients (internal or external) get to see what we are working on early in the process so they have input. This input is what makes learning projects successful.

These two reasons are why I think any LX designer should buy this book and start applying it in project plans whether you use MS Project, Excel, or Asana to track your projects.

Have you read Leaving SAM for ADDIE yet? If so, what do you think of the model? Comment below.

Bill Cushardauthorblogger, and head of learning at Allonhill, is a learning leader with extensive, in-the-trenches experience building learning organizations in start-up and hyper-growth organizations like E*TRADE, the Knowland Group, and Allonhill.

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