Leaving ADDIE for SAM

Successive Approximations Model 

Moving Beyond Content-Centered Design

SAM (2)

We need a faster and more collaborative model. We need a model that fosters creativity; that’s practical.

- Dr. Michael Allen

Written by Dr. Michael Allen

Leaving ADDIE for SAM

Design and production of quality instruction are not easy tasks. There are many factors that interact with each other to determine success. An approach that is successful with one group of authors and developers may fail dramatically with another group teaching identical skills. Let me stress in opening, that if you’re happy with the process you’re using—if it produces what you want to produce and does so within budget and schedule—it would be prudent to stay with it.

You’re fortunate, indeed. But my experience, bolstered by observation and feedback from others, leads me to believe common practices may not be the best. As we’ve become more sensitive to the importance of the learning experience not just the content to be delivered, the number of factors under consideration has risen.

The ADDIE Model

The discussion herein is much less about the legacy process ADDIE (an acronym for analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation) than about SAM, the Successive Approximations Model, as there are many sources of information about ADDIE—a process developed for the military to hasten production of training materials by persons having less than a thorough background in instructional design.
As originally conceived, the model was a sequential or so-called “waterfall” model, indicating that each phase was to be completed before the next began.

The ADDIE Model: Rapid Design and Development with the SAM Model


Although many have departed from the notion today, much was made of the importance of working through the phases in order. The justification was that each phase set directions and requirements for the next. If those requirements shifted as work was in progress, it created inefficiencies at best and potentially chaos with budget and schedule overruns. When I taught use of ADDIE as I did for some years, I religiously stressed the frustration down-stream workers have when part way through their work, significant changes were made to input specifications. I had frequently seen it firsthand. Indeed, over the years as I used ADDIE and worked with teams using ADDIE, I witnessed considerable strife. Exhausted and annoyed team members would begrudgingly compromise in their requests for and acceptances of changes, but at some point they’d resolutely refuse to make further adjustments. In the end, few people were proud of the resulting courseware. No one found the final product closely approximated what he or she expected would be produced at the outset, much less, what was hoped for.
SAM: An Instructional Design Model

Successive Approximations Model

ADDIE is a logical and well-thought-out process. Those new to the design and production of instructional products would have trouble seeing fault with it, other than its onerous appearance in full disclosure. Indeed, it is an easily defended process that covers all the bases. But then, it also requires a great deal of time. Practicality requires taking shortcuts.
Even though I’m a former advocate of ADDIE, I feel it’s unfortunate that ADDIE is often the first instructional systems development model many are exposed to. Change being difficult for us all, people tend to cling to the familiar and defend it. We can have trouble owning up to weaknesses in what we know and do, and sometimes just as much trouble appreciating the benefits of a different approach.
The success of content-centered design and development approaches, no matter how well organized and thorough, has become less satisfactory as we realize that successful instruction is so much more than the transmission of information. It seems we are ever less patient and want our training developed faster and often by persons with less knowledge about instructional design and human learning. We need a simpler model. We need a faster and more collaborative model. We need a model that fosters creativity; that’s practical. For these and many other reasons, we searched long and hard for an alternative model with significant advantages.

Rapid Instructional Design and Development with SAM

The Successive Approximations Model, SAM, is a derivation of several models, including ADDIE, and a product of extensive experimentation and revision. In many senses, it’s a contemporary model not only because it’s more recent, but also because it has evolved in parallel with advanced models currently employed in engineering and software development where, perhaps surprisingly, many of the needs and challenges are similar. For example, all need to meet the high hopes of clients that tend to waiver, to meet actual needs clients have even when clients don’t recognize them, to produce the product within restrictive budgets and schedules, and to serve end-users who are not the client.

Clients often have little appreciation for the many challenges projects have, yet need to be involved, have control, and be assured that their resources are being spent wisely. Most simply put, SAM is an iterative prototyping process through which prototypes evolve into the final product. It works through small steps; frequently testing to ensure work is proceeding on the right path. And it focuses far more on learning experiences, learner engagement, and learner motivation than it does on content organization, presentation of information, and summative posttests, although these latter components get full and adequate attention when and where appropriate.

Basic SAM Iteration


Rapid Design and Development with the SAM Model


Let's dig deeper


SAM begins with an evaluation or analysis. When a project is established, you’ll probably already know many things about the situation—the goals, the learners, the delivery platform, etc.—but in the first iteration you should ask any of the following questions for which you don’t have answers:

  • What forms of delivery are available to us?
  • Who are the learners and what needs to change about their performance?
  • What can they do now? Are we sure they can’t already do what we want?
  • What is unsatisfactory about current instructional programs, if any exist?
  • Where do learners go for help?
  • How will we know whether the new program is successful?
  • What is the budget and schedule for project completion?
  • What resources are available, human and otherwise?
  • Who is the key decision-maker and who will approve deliverables?

In this initial iteration, skip over questions that prove hard to answer. The process will reveal whether it’s worth additional time and effort to go after the answers to those questions. You may well be surprised that answers fall in your lap as the process proceeds. But then, you’ll also find other questions arise that you’ll need to answer, so you don’t want to spend effort where it’s not needed and reserve the time to explore additional issues that prove important.


Here begins an unusual step among instruction design models. With the limited amount of analysis having been done at this point and with vital information surely lacking, the SAM designer is encouraged to use his or her instincts to guess what might be a good solution and present it to stakeholders after little time or thought. In fact, the designer typically generates the first prospective design in a brainstorming, project kick-off meeting known in SAM parlance as a Savvy Start with key stakeholders in attendance.

The plan, in contrast to typical processes, is to swap out the traditional question, “What should we do?” for the more constructive and revealing question, “Why shouldn’t we do this?” The former question is so broad it’s very hard for a team of people to answer it without an extended discussion it can be both time-consuming and not very productive. SAM is intended to be a fast process and can’t afford drawn-out conversations. The former question, “Why shouldn’t we do this?” helps focus discussion and reveal specific, actionable thoughts. We need only discuss what’s good and bad about the proposal, not what’s good and bad about all the alternatives anyone can think of. If the designer has based the design on available background information, the proposal will be at least somewhat on the mark. The conversation stimulated by the question of why the design isn’t fully appropriate will help fill in the blanks in project requirements and constraints. As additional and critical benefits, it will help the designer understand who is really in charge, what’s important to the client/organization, where opportunities lie, what hidden agendas lie beneath the surface, who really knows the content, and so on.
The design, even at this point, should be visual. A quick, rough sketch. Not a verbal specifications document. It’s intended to be a disposable tool that helps the team consider alternatives. This first design will indeed be replaced in subsequent iterations, so it should have only just enough substance to identify strengths and weaknesses.


SAM is a process that depends on rapid iterative prototyping to assist with ongoing analysis and design. In fact, development is more interleaved with design than subsequent to it. Design sketches provide direction for prototypes as they refine sketches and create more of the interactive experience being proposed to aid the next appraisal and evaluation by the team. Prototypes need to be refined only to the point of minimizing miscommunication and clarifying what would be developed further, were the project to continue building on the current design.

For e-learning, functional prototypes substitute for detailed documentation (in common with Agile processes, which call for minimized, "just enough" documentation) to be sure that time and effort are used most productively and to communicate clearly. Written specifications take considerable time to construct and even then are subject to misinterpretation—especially when timing, logic, and the transitions of interactivity are involved. People can easily find they’ve approved a written specification that led to something entirely different from what they thought was described. Prototypes used to facilitate face-to-face discussion suffer much less from these liabilities and are essential in SAM.

Repeat 2x

Upon completion of the first prototype, it’s time to evaluate it. We return to the top of the cycle where we repeat the steps with slight modification. In evaluation, we’re now looking at prototyped solutions from the previous cycle and again asking why we shouldn’t do this. Much hidden, incomplete, and inaccurate information is certain to be exposed at this time—information that might never have been revealed by even the most determined investigator in upfront analysis. This constitutes invaluable progress. Prototypes have a talent for flushing out information and doing so early before divergent expectations and understandings would be a disruptive surprise.

In the second iteration, it’s wise to set aside the first design even if it continues to have great appeal. Forcing yourself to come up with something entirely new is challenging and often seems both unnecessary and painfully difficult. But doing so nearly always reveals a superior design.

In the third iteration, design restrictions can be softened a bit. It’s still wise to try for something completely new, but if the preceding evaluation yielded no contradiction and if the team cannot think of anything better, borrowing components from either or both the first and second design iterations is probably smart.



Some of the primary contrasts to ADDIE and many other models are these notions in SAM:

  • Minimize time-consuming upfront analysis. Collect readily available background information and guess where necessary to keep moving and expect to get it right later. Productive analysis will come throughout the process as questions arise.
  • Assemble a Savvy Start team that includes not only the obvious members, but also the project financier, a performance supervisor, and one or more prospective learners
  • Design backward from the last instructional topics, i.e. from the most advanced skills first. 
  • Put forward a design proposal quickly and ask, “Why shouldn’t we do this?”

Let’s dig a little deeper into each one of these methods that define SAM and contrast with legacy approaches.

Minimize Upfront Analysis 

In SAM, analysis is as important as with any other model but is an ongoing endeavor woven throughout the process. As designs are reviewed in functional prototypes, it’s common to reconsider what might have the greatest impact on learners and the organization. Even such fundamental parameters as who should be trained and what the instructional goals should be are up for reexamination and potential revision as discovery work progresses, whereas, with an upfront-loaded analysis phase, it’s more likely these parameters would not even be reconsidered.

Working with sketches and prototypes and repeatedly asking the question, “Why shouldn’t we do this? often leads to a bit of research, data collection, and analysis. The particular benefit is the research is directed to answer questions of particular relevance to the designs being contemplated. While less focused research can be an almost endless undertaking, research in SAM is focused, faster, and more productive than a broad analysis undertaking.

Assemble a Mixed Team

The first three iterations are typically completed during an intensive one- or two-day project kickoff meeting called the Savvy Start. Sometimes many more than three iterations can be accomplished in that period. For at least the first three iterations, it’s important to have a team that’s representative of all stakeholders. Failure to do this can result in many problems downstream.

In the book, Leaving ADDIE for SAM: An Agile Model for Developing the Best Learning Experiences (Allen and Sites, 2012), Richard Sites and I listed the desired attendees together with the key contributions they can make for project success.

A large team can make the meeting difficult to manage, but not having key stakeholders represented can make the whole project difficult to manage.

There may be many more iterative sessions beyond the Savvy Start depending on how many skills are to be learned and the complexity of them. It’s unlikely all such sessions can or even should command attendance by the full initial group, but the Savvy Start will have set the tone, revealed expectations and biases, and let you know who is really in charge. That information will be of considerable help when you must work without their direct involvement. It will also let you know who should receive periodic updates as the project progresses.

By having attended the Savvy Start, recipients of your updates will have an easier appreciation of what is being reported and the progress that’s being made.

Example Responsibilities 

Budget Maker

This person can explain budgetary constraints, know the budget will be (or was) set, and assumptions made. 

Person who owns the performance problem 

This person will help to determine the organization's expectations for successful performance. 

Person who supervises performers

Supervisors are the closest to the real performance issues and will provide the most concrete examples of the performance problems that need to be solved. 

Someone who knows the content (SME)

This person can provide insight into the content and direction for the instruction. 

Potential learners

These people will support the ongoing development of the course through user testing and reviews. 

Recent learners

These people will help the team understand the strengths and weaknesses of current instruction, what is easy and hard to learn, and what may be best to learn on the job.

Project manager

This person will manage all of the resources and schedules on the project.  

Instructional designer

Designer(s) will select or create instructional treatments and keep the instruction focused on the learner.


This person will sketch and/or build prototypes to give the team the opportunity to visualize the team's ideas. 


Work Backwards

Begin design with the last instructional experience you would want to have. What do you want learners to do before you declare them competent to work on their own? The answer, of course, is doing something that’s as similar as possible to the required performance under the range of conditions the learner will actually encounter. This activity, better than an abstract discussion of what the learning goals should be, will define those goals in functional specificity. There should be little interpretive variance going forward and therefore no problematic surprises to anyone. 

After learning experiences have been designed to ensure the readiness of learners to perform the most challenging skills, the design backs up to consider what preparation to learners need to be ready to engage in that final learning experience. The happy discovery is often that component of that final learning experience that can be broken out and reused as a preparatory or “part-task” learning experience. Reusable components save time and money as well as provide design consistency. It’s a win on many fronts.

Ask Why Shouldn’t We Do This?

It’s easier to have a constructive conversation about why a proposed design wouldn’t work than it is to have one to design the program considering all possible alternatives at once. In SAM, we propose a design almost immediately. Instead of lengthy, in-depth analysis, SAM suggests basing an initial kneejerk design on whatever information is easy to obtain information about the following parameters:

  • Learners—entry skills and variances, motivation
  • Performance needs—what exactly are learners expected to do after instruction and to what degree of perfection
  • The errors people often make in performing the skills to be taught 
  • The conditions under which learners are expected to perform
  • The frequency with which they will perform the task
  • Previous instructional successes and failures, if any

If any of this information proves difficult to gather, guess. Speed is more important than accuracy at first. Evaluation of prototypes will correct faulty guesses and do so with helpful specificity.

SAM1 vs. SAM2

The SAM1 diagram above can serve as a complete process for smaller projects. It’s simple, fast, and productive. And a fun way to work. Design and development interleave with evaluation assuring the process is on the right path. But larger projects, especially those involving more than a few people and needing formal budgets and project plans or those in which development is completed by a separate team, perhaps even in a different facility or country, will need to use SAM2 as depicted below. The major difference is that in SAM2, the project moves on to a development phase when design iterations have been completed, whereas in SAM1 the product is complete at the conclusion of the Evaluate, Design, and Develop iterations. 

Work in SAM2 is divided into three phases:

  • Preparation
  • Iterative Design
  • Iterative Development

Although introducing phases feels something like reverting to a waterfall and ADDIE-like approach with the liabilities and consequences such an approach carries, SAM2 preserves the creative power of iterations throughout while also offering a manageable structure for larger projects and multiple specialized teams.

Rapid Design and Development with the SAM Model: SAM2


1 - Preparation Phase

The preparation phase is the period for gathering background information, even before attempting to design the first solution which we are eager to get into as quickly as possible. Backgrounding helps set the target, identify special issues, and rule out options. It prepares for the intensive design activities to follow by narrowing focus. This is the time for actively exploring the performance problem in broad terms—its context within the organization’s needs, goals, and outcome expectations.

Background information to be gathered includes: 


  • Previous performance improvement efforts (if any) and their outcomes
  • Programs currently in use (if any)
  • Available content materials • Organizational responsibilities for training
  • Constraints, such as schedule, budget, and legal requirements
  • Who the ultimate decision maker is
  • What will define project success and how it will be measured 
Key information gathering objectives: 


  • Identification of the key players and their commitment to participate. Key players include: decision and budget maker, opportunity owner, subject expert, performance supervisor, recent learner, target learner, and organization’s deployment manager
  • Identification of the organization’s primary opportunity here and its dependency on specifiable behavioral changes
In SAM, preparation work is done quickly at first, taking paths of least resistance. It’s not because this work is unimportant—it’s critically important to base decisions on accurate information and avoid the risk of making unverified assumptions, but the model prescribes performing the majority of analysis in the context of considering alternative solutions. It explicitly avoids exhaustive research that will be inevitably incomplete anyway and might not even prove useful.
At the start of the process, much time can be spent collecting information that might be relevant and turns out not to be very helpful. We need to get to the right questions to research—quickly. It may be surprising, but identifying the right questions comes most easily from iterative design where the context of alternatives under construction yields clear cut questions to consider. So, we collect the information that’s readily available and move right on to the Savvy Start, knowing that analysis is far from finished.
The Savvy Start 

The Savvy Start is really the same process found in SAM1. It's a brainstorming event in which the design team together with key stakeholders review collected background information, validate conclusions drawn, and generate initial design ideas for learning experiences. This phase of the design process includes sharing solutions stakeholders may already have in mind to be sure they aren't held in reserve only to spring forward at a time when changing directions is costly and problematic.

While it’s important to get assumptions and expectations on the table as soon as possible, whether they are destined to become part of the final solution or eventually abandoned, this activity proves invaluable for many purposes, not the least of which is determining who is really in charge and what outcomes are essential to success. Brainstorming solutions is an amazingly efficient way of determining what the main performance objectives are and simultaneously dealing with the organization’s hierarchy that can so easily obscure the real goals and closely held agendas.

Important information and insights are discovered by designing and reviewing rapidly constructed, disposable prototypes. These prototypes promote additional brainstorming and creative problem solving, help the team determine what really is and isn’t important, and help align the team’s values.

Savvy Start Highlights
  • Design cycles are used to evaluate the direction suggested by gathered information, assumptions, and early ideas.
  • Prototypes are very rough and finished just barely enough to communicate and test ideas.
  • Performance outcome objectives are generate in parallel with prototyped learning events that will be used to help learners achieve them.
  • Evaluation is done primarily by discussion in which redefining and changing anything and everything may be appropriate, including even the business problem to be addressed and the people to be trained.
  • Speed is the key!

As in SAM1, design, prototyping, and evaluation continue to be done iteratively in small steps, but only exemplary samples of the instructional content are worked to completion. Additional content is created later, but even then, it's done iteratively.


2 - Iterative Design Phase

The Iterative Design phase begins with the intensive design activities followed by periods of prototypes, and reviews. Additional activities include project planning to identify tasks, when they will be completed, and who will hold responsibilities for them. Additional design is produced later through more iteration, but by a smaller team focused on covering additional content, resolving inconsistencies among designs, or solving problems that arose along the way.

With larger projects or teams, documentation and coordination are prerequisites to success, but SAM continues to push for minimal documentation. Only essential documents should be produced, and all should be questioned as to whether face-to-face communication or communication through prototypes wouldn’t be better.

Note the additional activities along the bottom of the model diagram. Project Planning occurs in the Iterative Design Phase. The plan identifies tasks, when they will be completed, and who will hold responsibilities for them. Additional Design is also a big part of this phase as only representative samples of content are produced in the Savvy Start by the larger team of stakeholders. Designs are produced through more iteration, of course, but by a smaller team focused on covering additional content, resolving inconsistencies among designs, and solving problems that may have been identified along the way. Some additional design needs may actually be identified in the Development Phase as issues or opportunities are discovered, as we’ll discuss later.

Rapid Design and Development with the SAM Model


Project Planning
Project planning involves quantitative assessment of remaining project development details affecting timeline and budget. It involves careful consideration not only of cost and quality management, but also of related recourses, communications, risks, schedule, scope, and staffing implications.
As discussed before, a concept essential to successive iteration is that no project is ever perfect, but through repeated work, projects can evolve and become ever closer to perfection. This notion lends a great deal of practicality; it urges developers to put projects into use or at least limited use and think of making future iterations based on feedback from the field. The point relevant to planning is that there can be more certainty of project availability on a preset date than is possible with other approaches.
That is, from the time functional prototypes are first available, SAM projects always have courseware that could be used in a pinch. The quality will rise continually as more time and effort is invested, but at any point that it’s necessary to deliver instruction, the best product possible within the project’s constraints will be available with certainty.

To assist with this ultimate practicality, as work tasks are listed, each is given a level of priority for the next iteration.

  • Threshold: Must be completed in this iteration

  • Target: Is expected to be completed in this iteration

  • Future: Will be held back for a future iteration
  • Epic: To be considered after this project has been put in use

There are typically many pressures to produce schedules and budgets before enough is known to do so with any credibility. Project planning should really be held off until after a Savvy Start. Based on the designs created or selected in the Savvy Start, it becomes possible to create a project plan that has much greater integrity. Content writing, media development, and programming can be estimated for the overall project plan.

Project Planning Guidelines:
  • Savvy Start Summary Report: The first step is to capture discussions and decisions by preparing and circulating a summary including screen captures and/or links to sketches and prototypes. 
  • Media and Content Style Guides: Initial style guides can also be prepared, although they are likely to be incomplete until additional design cycles have been completed. It’s best as well as easy and efficient to capture preferences as they spill out.
  • Content Development Plan: An initial draft can be prepared, indicating responsibilities and estimates of what material will be needed. Remember to prioritize items by threshold, target, and future.
  • The Biggest Risk: The biggest risk lies with learning and performance objectives for which no solutions have yet been prototyped. There are likely to be some. The Project Plan should include a reserve of time and money for unknowns. 
Additional Design
The Savvy Start session may take only a half-day, a full three days, or sometimes even more. The length is as often determined by incidental factors, such as availability of people or meeting space, as it is by project parameters, such as quantity and complexity of content or variation in learner readiness. As intense (and fun) as these sessions often are and should be, they are more properly considered brainstorming sessions rather than design sessions.
Good ideas and preferences spill out, the need for research and more information becomes apparent, and attractive instructional approaches emerge that need to be thoughtfully reviewed and refined, if not modified extensively or even replaced on closer examination. Further, while the involvement of key stakeholders is essential to truly understanding boundaries and expectations, these people usually can’t afford the time necessary to reach needed depth or cover all the content. Additional design work will have to be undertaken in their absence. 
The Breadth Before Depth Rule: The team performing additional design work will likely be smaller. They will likely be charged with preparing ideas in advance of meeting to review their work with others. It remains important, however, to follow the rule of breadth before depth. That is, it’s important to consider all the content to understand whether a broad variety of instructional treatments will be necessary, or whether just one or a few will be appropriate for all content.

This rule is harder to follow than it appears and can be the biggest liability of using SAM. The temptation is to immediately follow up on ideas as they spring forth. This takes the team into great depth, potentially spending a too much time on one content segment and leaving too little for more important needs and opportunities.

Generally, no content area should receive more than three iterations until after all types of content have been worked for their three iterations. At that point, it is possible to go back and review designs, looking for inconsistencies and opportunities to combine treatments into a smaller set to be developed.

Prototypes continue to be important to test and communicate ideas. A usable prototype is better than any description, specification, or storyboard. It substitutes for many pages of documentation that can be both time-consuming to write and time-consuming to read. A prototype communicates specificity by example, making it easy for people to understand, ask constructive questions, and make detailed comments. Multiple types of prototypes may be developed following the Savvy Start depending on the selected means of delivery.

Media Prototype Integrates media elements to demonstrate the desired “look-and-feel.” Layout, colors, fonts, images, and samples of other elements are brought together to form a clear design example and set criteria for full product development.
Functional Prototype Usually derived from Savvy Start prototypes by enhancing or adding details to make them testable with learners. In the case of e-learning, increased functionality provides a better sense of interactivity and usability.
Integrated Prototype Usually derived from Savvy Start prototypes by enhancing or adding details to make them testable with learners. In the case of e-learning, increased functionality provides a better sense of interactivity and usability.
Special-Purpose Prototype Created to test any technical or design components that must be finalized early in the process.
Guidelines for additional design tasks
  • The same iterative process of design—prototype—evaluate is used. The key decision makers should review and approve the new prototypes before development commences. Trusting they will be happy with how things are evolving is not a good practice.
  • Except for small projects and those with a very narrow focus, there isn’t usually enough time to create functional prototypes for all behavioral objectives. It’s therefore important to review all content and organize it by similarities so that the smallest number of necessary treatments and prototypes can be identified. You need a prototype for each type of content, but not for each instance of the same type of content.


3 - Iterative Development Phase

The iterations that are so advantageous to the design process are equally powerful for development activities. They allow stakeholders to have a continuing means of evaluating decisions and making corrections within project constraints. The importance of this advantage cannot be overstated. Because a functional product becomes available quickly, before time-consuming refinements are made, stakeholders can get an invaluable glimpse of the design becoming real.

The iterations that are so advantageous to the design process are equally powerful for development activities. They allow stakeholders to have a continuing means of evaluating decisions and making corrections within project constraints. The importance of this advantage cannot be overstated. Because a functional product becomes available quickly, before time-consuming refinements are made, stakeholders can get an invaluable glimpse of the design becoming real.
Rapid Design and Development with the SAM Model


Design Proof
At the beginning of the development phase, a plan is made to produce a Design Proof, which is typically the product of the first Development Phase. Projects with large amounts of content will require a couple development cycles or more for each type of instructional approach. Approval or disapproval will determine whether:
  • Additional design work is needed. If so, the process returns to iterative design to produce needed designs.
  • Another development iteration is needed to make corrections.
  • Iterative development can proceed to producing an alpha version of the final product.
 The Design Proof is essentially a visual, functional demonstration of the proposed solution that integrates samples of all components to test and prove viability. It has greater functionality or usability than the design prototypes and is built with the same tools that will produce the final deliverable. In this way, it not only tests the viability of the design, but also of the production system. If technology is involved, the Design Proof needs to run on the equipment and network to be used by learners and demonstrate functional communication with the learning management system, if one is to be used. If roll playing, field demonstrations, or other activities are involved, trial runs are needed to be sure all details have been addressed to make activities run smoothly.
Design Proof evaluation is a critical event in the process. Design Proofs are used to scout out potential problems so they don’t become last-minute crises. It’s the big opportunity for the design team and the stakeholders to check how the course will function as a whole. At this point, it is possible to get the clearest sense of what the overall solution is becoming while still having time to note corrections that are clearly needed.
Design Proof Highlights
  • The first production cycle produces the design proof, which provides an opportunity to confirm all design decisions by actually presenting and testing a functional application on the intended delivery platform.
  • Design proofs test
    • Design viability
    • Whether the design is in a form that communicates requirements effectively
    • The suitability of development tools
    • The ability to deliver required learning experiences reliably and repeatedly
  • Design proofs combine design treatments and sample content, including examples of all components.
  • Text and media are polished and representative of the final quality to be expected for all similar elements.
The alpha product is a complete version of the instructional application to be validated against the approved design. All content and media are implemented. If problems exist, and they well might because it is often important to begin evaluation before all issues can be rectified, those known problems are listed. No major, undocumented issues are expected to be found, but it’s nevertheless common for a few to surface despite everyone’s best efforts.
Evaluation of the alpha release identifies deviations from style guides, graphical errors, text changes, sequencing problems, missing content, lack of clarity, and functional problems.
Alpha Highlights
  • The second production cycle (or set of cycles for large projects) produces the alpha from approved designs.
  • Full content development integration occurs in this cycle. Samples no longer suffice.
  • The alpha is nearly the final version of the complete instructional program to be validated against the approved design. All content and media are implemented.
  • Completion and approval of the alpha signals the beginning of the validation cycles.
  • Review of the alpha is expected to find only minor deviations from style guides, writing issues, graphical errors, and functional problems.Text and media are polished and representative of the final quality to be expected for all similar elements.

Because errors are nearly always found in alpha releases, a second cycle, called the validation cycle, is scheduled as part of the process to produce a second final product candidate, called the beta release. The beta is a modified version of the alpha that incorporates needed changes identified during validation of the alpha. If all goes as expected and corrections are made carefully, the beta review should discover few errors, and those errors discovered should include only minor typographical errors, or corrections in graphics.

Beta Highlights
  • The alpha release is modified to reflect errors identified in its evaluation. The resulting beta release is viewed as a first gold release candidate. There should be no functional errors at this stage. If there are, another iteration may be necessary to produce a second beta release and additional prospective releases if significant errors continue to be found.
  • Not only subject matter experts, but also actual learners who represent of the target population, should evaluate the beta release.

Construction of the gold release is the final phase of development. At this point, while no project ever reaches perfection, the courseware becomes fully usable within the parameters of previously approved project guidelines.

Gold Release Highlights
  • If problems are identified, they must be rectified before the beta release can be given the gold crown. A modified version of a beta, “beta 2” (sometimes called “gold candidate 2”) and, if necessary, a succession of numbered candidates is produced until all problems are resolved.
  • When the beta performs as expected and no additional problems are identified, it simply becomes the gold release without further development and is ready for rollout implementation.
  • Hopefully, but all too rarely, rollout signals the beginning of an evaluation study to determine whether targeted behaviors are achieved and whether these new behaviors secure the performance success expected.

Final Thought

Just as no project reaches perfection, no process is perfect; however, the Successive Approximations Model, SAM, is working very much better for me and my staff than our best efforts with ADDIE ever managed. SAM is not all that new, having been something we’ve been testing and revising since the late 1970s, and in that time, many have given it a try with very positive results reported. The concepts have gained additional creditability in their commonality with Agile, rapid prototyping, and other contemporary processes devised to produce superior products efficiently. They are shared with only one purpose: to assist those making an earnest effort to produce the most beneficial learning experiences for others.

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Rapid Design and Development with the SAM Model


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