Voice of the Customer: Successive Approximation Model Instructional Design

Source: Johnson, 2019. Unpublished.

I learned about another instructional design model a few weeks ago: Successive Approximation Model (SAM).

SAM was the brainchild of Michael Allen (2012), Chief Executive Officer of Allen Interactions, an educational e-learning applications provider. Allen determined the prolonged A.D.D.I.E. (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implementation, and Evaluation) linear “waterfall” design process was too convoluted and inflexible to adjust to the volatile, disruptive, and ever changing demands of e-learning, gamification, and micro learning innovations (Allen, 2012). 

Successive Approximation Model Instructional Design Process

Allen proposed an alternative to A.D.D.I.E. by collapsing A.D.D.I.E.’s 5-phase waterfall linear process into a 3-phase cyclical non-linear phases as illustrated succinctly below:

Phase I: Analyze. During the analyze phase, instructional designers create a pathway to a Savvy Start to the instructional design process. Instructional designers work with stakeholders collaboratively and engaging in active brainstorming to gather and organizing information regarding learners and their learning needs.  The ideas from the meetings are assessed and used to determine the requirements for the instructional design based on learning outcomes and objectives.   

Phase II: Design. During the design phase, the prototype for the instructional design is created and sent to stakeholders for confined testing.  An iterative process is initiated to use feedback from stakeholder evaluations and critiques to make corrections and adjustments required to refine and improve the prototype until a semblance of the desired product has been reached and implemented.

Phase III: Development. During the development phase, the prototype is implemented and sent to stakeholders for testing on a broader scale. The iterative evaluation – correction – adjustments – redesign – implementation process continues between the three phases repeatedly until the creation of an instructional design acceptable by stakeholders as a proven training solution.

Successive Approximation Model in Practice

Question: Is SAM an acceptable alternative to A.D.D.I.E.?

Acknowledged advantages associated with the SAM instructional design process include the process reflects the realistic strategic and tactical product design process in that it incorporates feedback and input from a multitude of sources, using small steps during development, relies on collaborative teamwork and communications, and enables balancing of project development processes to allow focus on those of greatest importance.

Known disadvantages associated with the SAM instructional design process include team members can begin to operate from the “I can always find something wrong” mentality which can bog down and delay the instructional design process, and corrections made during one iteration could alter corrections made during an earlier iteration causing issues to go undetected. 

Overall, however, it is generally agreed that SAM’s cyclical and iterative design process allows for the early detection of errors and includes a built-in quality assurance process. SAM also aligns with the agile implementation approach to project management and is adaptable to most agile-support software products including the SCRUM (Allen, 2006; Allen, 2012; Czeropski & Pembrook, 2017; Galagan, 2013; Glova, 2018; Interactions, 2017).J

Jennie’s Perspective

Back to the question: Is SAM an acceptable alternative to A.D.D.I.E.?

I accept SAM approach as an alternative. What I like most about the SAM instructional design process is its focus on the voice of the customer.  The need to heed the voice of the customer can often get overlooked during the instructional design process as practitioners strive to create the “perfect” lesson plan.

Heeding the voice of the customer should be especially important in higher education. Numerous researchers are warning academia that the loss of customer (students and society’s) goodwill and confidence can not only lead to tarnished institutional images but can further strain budgets by adding additional intangible costs (Matorera, 2015; Mulay & Khanna, 2017; Raharjo, Xie, Goh, & Brombacher, 2007).

I like money well spent. Don’t you?


Allen, M. (2012). Leaving ADDIE for SAM: An agile model for developing the best learning experiences. American Society for Training and Development.

Allen, W. C. (2006). Overview and evolution of the ADDIE training system. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 8(4), 430-441.

Czeropski, S. & Pembrook, C. (2017). E-Learning Ain’t Performance: Reviving HPT in an Era of Agile and Lean. Performance Improvement, 56(8), 37–45. https://doi.org/10.1002/pfi.21728 rd

Galagan, P. (2013). Greed for Speed. T+D, 67(5), 22.

Glova, S. E. (2018). Toward Effective Facilitation for Adult Learners: An Action Research Study on the Design and Delivery of Workshops for Women Business Owners. ProQuest LLC.

Interactions, A. (2017). Iterative eLearning Development with SAM. Retrieved from https://www.alleninteractions.com/sam-process

Matorera, D. (2015). A Conceptual Analysis of Quality in Quality Function Deployment-Based Contexts of Higher Education. Journal of Education and Practice, 6(33), 145–156.

Mulay, R., & Khanna, V. T. (2017). A Study on the Relationship between the Voice of Customer with the Cost of Quality in Processes of Professional Higher Education Institutions. South Asian Journal of Management, 24(4), 55-72.

Raharjo, H., Xie, M., Goh, T., & Brombacher, A. (2007). A Methodology to Improve Higher Education Quality using the Quality Function Deployment and Analytic Hierarchy Process. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, 18(10), 1097–1115. https://doi.org/10.1080/14783360701595078

Zaharie, M., Osoian, C., & Gavrea, C. (2013). Applying Quality Function Deployment to Improve Quality in Higher Education: Employers’ Perspective. Managerial Challenges of the Contemporary Society, (5), 172–176.

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