Addie vs SAM: Which Instructional Design Model is Right for You

ADDIE and SAM may sound like a couple of cute names for the latest and greatest toy. The reality, however, is that they are simply acronyms for two different instructional design models. ADDIE is the prevailing, old-school, tried and tested method, while SAM is the prospective challenger and new-age upstart.

Related: ADDIE Model vs SAM Model: Which Is Best For Your Next eLearning Project

ADDIE stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation, which is the order of instructional design progression from beginning to end based on a linear workflow. SAM is easier to memorize, which stands for the Successive Approximation Model, and has more of an agile approach.

The thing that makes the comparison between the two more difficult is the evolution of ADDIE. The problem is that ADDIE was developed in the mid-70s, and the model used today is an evolved version, though it is identified as ADDIE.

ADDIE and SAM Overview

Addie vs SAM: Which Instructional Design Model is Right for You

The best way to make a comparison between two systems, (ADDIE vs SAM) is to define those systems individually. It’s hard to compare apples and oranges to a blind man without first explaining what they are because he’s never seen either of them.


Addie vs SAM: Which Instructional Design Model is Right for You


In 1975, Florida State University released its framework that would later become known as ADDIE. This framework was initially intended as a military application. The five phases mentioned above were designed to be an instructional model that functioned in a linear format. 

ADDIE could also be known as simplification personified. It’s a straightforward instructional design model, and since it’s broken down linearly, it’s easy to understand its operation. In other words, you can only learn and roll out the Implementation and evaluation phases after you learn Analysis, Design, and Development. 

As we think about our question ADDIE vs SAM, it has to be said, you can’t achieve a successful outcome with the ADDIE model out of order, it just doesn’t work like that, unfortunately. Thanks to the simplification and, more importantly, the terrific results of using this model, ADDIE has been around for nearly half a century, it works, and it’s effective. 

That’s what separates it from other instructional design models, whether still current or has been lost to history. 


Addie vs SAM: Which Instructional Design Model is Right for You


SAM is the exact opposite of ADDIE. “Linear” is the last thing you will find in the Successive Approximation Model, as many aspects of instruction occur simultaneously. It’s a slower instructional design process than you’ll find with ADDIE because SAM leaves open the option to repeat each step of the instruction process multiple times. 

SAM is far more adaptive than ADDIE. As you complete one aspect, you are analyzed and, at times, repeating steps until you reach the end result. It’s also important to understand that SAM, like ADDIE, has evolved from its original concept. 

There is now a SAM², which is a similar structure but designed for projects that are much larger in scale. However, SAM² is not a different mechanism so much as a necessary evolution from the original SAM model… clear as mud, right?

Head-to-Head Comparison

Addie vs SAM: Which Instructional Design Model is Right for You

While SAM is relatively new, ADDIE has been around for a long time. However, SAM is the one that’s most often compared to ADDIE in terms of effectiveness, overall process, drawbacks, speed, cost-effectiveness, flexibility, and more.

Attribute ADDIE SAM
A slow, methodical approach.
Faster in theory but can be slow with necessary repetition.
ADDIE follows a linear approach.
SAM’s approach is back and forth, depending on repetition.
Limited interaction with clients.
Consistent interaction from clients throughout.
Back and forth when necessary.
ADDIE is a rigid instructional system, with little to no flexibility.
Very flexible, with rework and re-instruction necessary at various stages.
Necessary Rework.
Rework (the entire process from start to finish) is often necessary.
Rework throughout the process reduces overall rework at the end.
Cost Effectiveness.
Not as cost-effective as most would like.
Considered by most analysts to be cost-effective.

ADDIE Pros and Cons

Addie vs SAM: Which Instructional Design Model is Right for You

ADDIE’s linear flow system is often its greatest detraction, even though ADDIE has been around for so long, and the process is known for being a successful instructional design model.

Related: Is the ADDIE model still relevant?

The fact is, only some learn the same way or on the same level. It often depends on the individuals going through the process as well. ADDIE caters to a specific number of the population, while SAM caters to another.

Because of that, in this comparison of ADDIE vs SAM, it’s difficult to knock ADDIE’s linear methodology because many people learn and action tasks better in a linear fashion while others do not. As you move through the process, each step is carefully analyzed before you can move on to the next.

ADDIE is different from what you would consider creative. It’s a very rigid structure. However, the quality of instructional design content using the ADDIE model is high and usually very effective when done right. This ensures that ADDIE doesn’t complete until each step is adequately covered and understood.

But, since ADDIE is inflexible, there needs to be more collaboration between the customer and the client throughout the process. Everything is done precisely and linearly, though each step through the learning process is highly informative, and the quality is high caliber.

Because of the limited degree of communication, defects aren’t caught as quickly as they should be. In fact, they are often compiled at the end of the process, which necessitates repeating the process in several ways.

Lastly, on ADDIE, remember the evaluation ending process. The great thing is you can evaluate after your learning is out in the world and being used, so you can use both quantitative and qualitative real-world data. But the main issue is that unlike in SAM, evaluation is not happening iteratively, so some things might be missed when evaluating the effectiveness of your program; not necessarily a bad thing, but definitely just a consideration.

There’s a lot to learn on this ADDIE vs SAM discussion, so hopefully this has been valuable to you so far. 

Pros Cons
Very thorough.
Can sometimes necessitate a complete restart.
Each instructional step is of the highest quality.
Often considered slower than SAM.
Changes and defects are compiled and tackled at the end.
Process is linear and kind of boring.
Sense of completion at the end of each step.

SAM Pros and Cons

Addie vs SAM: Which Instructional Design Model is Right for You

SAM is so often compared to ADDIE because ADDIE has simply been the king of the hill for so long that the comparison becomes natural. SAM is so different from ADDIE that it almost renders a comparison a moot point.

SAM is the complete opposite. Where ADDIE features a linear learning system, SAM is all over the place. It’s labeled as “cyclical” by some and repetitive by others. The cyclical nature of this instructional program simply means retracing your steps back whenever something needs to be understood.

Related: The pros and cons of the SAM model

SAM includes all of the same learning methodologies and modalities as any other format you choose to use as a delivery mechanism, and they’re implemented in the same ways, such as; storyboards, video learning, audio learning, or just plain text. You can get feedback throughout the entire process and go back a step or two or three whenever necessary.

Where ADDIE’s individual steps are analyzed and evaluated afterward, SAM’s steps are analyzed and evaluated as you go along, whether you’re going through the course linearly or jumping back and forth. This helps you not get bogged down in long review cycles at the end of your content development phase.

Also, SAM does not require approval at the end of one step before you can move on to the next step. You can go back and repeat the unapproved step later on in the process. Everything is clarified (with ADDIE) at the beginning of the learning process.

You don’t need to understand the entire training fundamentals at the very beginning of SAM. With ADDIE, achieving such an all-encompassing understanding before you even begin is often challenging. With SAM, things are clarified as necessary as you go along. 

Pros Cons
Flexibility and built-in review as you go along.
It can feel repetitive.
No sense of cohesion throughout the process.
Saves time in the end.
Capable of wasting time and resources.
Feedback is consistent and effects change.

ADDIE Vs SAM: Which One is Right for You?

Addie vs SAM: Which Instructional Design Model is Right for You

The thing is, when thinking about ADDIE vs SAM, people compare these theoretical design models as if there is a one-size-fits-all out there that’s the end all be all for everyone. The reality is a different story.

No one person learns in the same way, and instructional designers do not develop training programs in the same way either makes sense.

Some people author content in similar ways, and you will find entire groups of people that get along nicely through a single instructional process. What’s important here is a thorough comparison and explanation of the two—ADDIE and SAM.

ADDIE vs SAM Which is best

Every instructional designer I’ve ever spoken to has a slightly different method of assessing, developing, and evaluating the training programs they produce. It’s essential to realize that some designers don’t use any of these models and are still really successful, so definitely choose the best method for your workflow.

Also, you need to actively think about these models every minute of the day within instructional design. Usually, they are in the back of your mind, and you refer to them when needed, otherwise known as unconscious competence, where you don’t really think, but you know and do. This is a part of the 4 stages of competence created by Noel Burch; check it out!

There are pros and cons for each method, and, at the individual level, it’s a good idea to understand the process and the pros and cons to determine which one is the right one for you as a designer.

ADDIE hasn’t been around for half a century because it’s ineffective, and SAM wouldn’t be a fitting challenge for ADDIE if it was ineffective. The one that’s right for you is the one that matches your L&D development capabilities the best. If you like working in a linear fashion, ADDIE is the ticket.

But if you prefer a more random variation with a ton of iterative feedback, SAM is the obvious choice. Go SAM!

Final Thoughts

So what is the answer to our title question then, after all this learning, on the topic ADDIE vs SAM? Well, the beauty of these instructional design models is in their diversity. Both ADDIE and SAM have something to offer in their wildly different instructional designs. Choosing the right one is simply a matter of selecting the most effective match for the way you create learning content and develop your training programs.

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