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Big Question : ISD / ADDIE / HPT: Still relevant?

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Learning Circuits Blog’s The Big Question for November is:
Are ISD / ADDIE / HPT relevant in a world of rapid elearning, faster time-to-performance, and informal learning?

In a single word – NO!

It’s kind of deja vu for me – couple of months back I was writing relevance of Gagne’s methodology for ID today, now ISD / ADDIE / HPT. OK – let me give it a shot.

Why ISD / ADDIE / HPT doesn’t work in today’s Learning Experience Design Context

1. Learning Experience Design is a non-linear process, what the ‘Waterfall Methodology’ of ADDIE can’t support. In 5 step by step process of ADDIE, each phase elaborates on the output of the previous phase, without going back ‘upstream’ to reconsider / reevaluate a decision. In an ideal world – linear way of problem solving or decision making works perfectly, but we do not live in a linear, ideal world. Today’s problems or challenges (including learning experience design) are complex, not only complicated. An excellent example of this can be found in an original paper published in Touchstone, written by E. Jeffrey Conklin & William Weil.

A study at the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC) examined how people solve problems.
A number of designers participated in an experiment. Each was asked to design an elevator control system for an office building. All the participants were experienced, expert designers, but none had worked on elevator systems. Participants were asked to think out loud while they worked on the problem. The sessions were videotaped and then analyzed.

Traditional thinking, cognitive studies, and existing design methods all predicted that the best way to work on a problem like this was to follow an orderly and linear process, working from the problem to the solution. You begin by understanding the problem, which can include gathering and analyzing data. Once you have specified the problem and analyzed the data, you are ready to formulate-and then implement-a solution.

Traditional wisdom for solving complex problems-the “waterfall”

This is the pattern of thinking that we all assume we follow when faced with a problem. The conventional wisdom is that the more complex the problem, the more important it is to follow this orderly flow. If you work in a large organization, you have probably seen the waterfall model of problem solving enshrined in policy manuals, textbooks, internal standards for the design process, and the most advanced organizational tools and methods.

In the MCC study, however, the designers did not follow the waterfall model. They would start by trying to understand the problem, but would immediately jump to formulating potential solutions. Then they would go back to refining their understanding of the problem. Rather than being orderly and linear, the line plotting the course of their thinking looked more like a seismograph for a major earthquake, as illustrated in the diagram. We call this pattern both chaotic, for obvious reasons, and opportunity-driven, because in each moment the designers are seeking the best opportunity to progress toward a solution.

Actual pattern of problem solving – the “seismograph”

This non-linear process is not a defect, not a sign of stupidity or lack of training, but rather the mark of a natural learning process. It suggests that humans are oriented more toward learning (a process that leaves us changed) than toward problem solving (a process focused on changing our surroundings).

2. Development Problems or Problem of Designing in silos: as you can see ADDIE or any other structural methods promote the concept of – Analyzing at the beginning and Evaluation at the end. In between – the content development team work in silos and deliver the final product to the ‘client’ for evaluation. No rapid prototyping in between, no field test no persona sketching. This is a pathway to disaster leading towards considerable rework if the ‘outcome’ is not satisfactory.

Also ‘Analysis’ here – means interview with couple of project manager and SME’s – to gather the need! No connection with actual learner at all! Even in the process of analyzing SME viewpoints the instructional designer is making a fundamental assumption that visualization of the development team and the client is in-sync, which is hardly possible in any case.

3. Contextual gap : again ‘Analysis’ phase assumes that there is a pre set problem and the learning content / initiative is going to solve that! It’s like a solution seeking for problem. I wrote this before: …before doing training needs analysis – please, do go through a business needs analysis. It may not be the same as the strategic direction or vision statement of the company; it’s more complex. We are dealing with different goals and perspectives. What needs to be learnt varies from the point of view of the CXO, training manager, product manager/department head and the learner. Catering to all viewpoints is a daunting task, but, believe me, it’s the first and foremost task to do. Any shortcut is a pathway to doom’s loop. We can use 3 converging circles (inspired by Jim Collins) to formulate the business context analysis of learning needs.

So if ADDIE doesn’t work, what is our alternative? Although I am dead against of any ‘structural development process (each learning need is unique), but if you really need to have a structure – consider adopting Successive Approximation process suggested by Michael Allen. I will try to blog about it ASAP.

Here goes what others have to say :

Written by anol

November 8th, 2006 at 4:32 pm

4 Responses to 'Big Question : ISD / ADDIE / HPT: Still relevant?'

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  1. Excellent point of view. I haven’t the knowledge or experience yet as I am just new at researching different performance models. I will look up the suggested process Successive Approximation for more information. Thank you for sharing. D


    29 Apr 07 at 3:41 am

  2. You have posed an excellent question. What should be used as a model? Have you come to any further conclusions?

    Rob Biggers

    22 Feb 08 at 11:08 pm

  3. Dianus – there isn’t a single size which fits all. But as I mentioned, Michael Allen got some useful practical tips on the process.


    23 Feb 08 at 5:11 am

  4. [...] happen in a completely linear way. (Clark wanted everyone to know that the slide came from this post by Anol  Bhattacharya).  Even more proof that ADDIE may be necessary as an organizational tool, [...]

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