Instructional Design: Planning Success

  • Synergistx Synergistx
  • Updated:
instructional design

Have you done your research on instructional design? There are an abundance of models; ADDIE, MPI, SAM, Bloom’s Taxonomy to name a few. Each one aims to make the acquisition of knowledge and skills more efficient, effective, and appealing. Here are six things you should define before picking one.

Instructional Design Objectives

Operating in the real world, you try to maximize your training budget to meet objectives. You want to design content and instruction methods that will achieve those objectives. In order to do so, you must identify a few key items.

  • Describe your end goal.
    • What are your learning needs to meet this goal?
      • Who requires this training?
  • What content already exists.
    • If it is training content, was it effective?
      • Is there a “Tribal Knowledge” issue?

Generally speaking, the above questions, or steps, apply to any instructional design methodology. In this case, let’s look at how these questions apply to SAM (Successive Approximation Model).

The SAM Instructional Design ModelSAM iteration

In brief, SAM is a cyclical process of three iterations; Analyze → Design → Develop. Due to this simplicity, SAM scales easily from prototype to full project. At the same time, the cyclical nature presents issues for larger scale undertakings.


The analysis phase in this instructional design model is basis for the project. At this time, answer the big three questions, who, what, and why.

Identifying Learning Goals:

To begin with, we have to choose a goal. This could be any identifiable effect, from improved office etiquette to decreased accidents. Efficient knowledge transfer begins with realizable end goals. Additionally, this gives us an opportunity to measure a baseline against which we can test.

Audience Analysis:

In essence, this is the “who” of the objective. Understanding the target audience allows for tailored messaging. Some questions to ask yourself are (each relative to the goal):

  • Are they a relatively homogeneous group, or is this a broad reaching effort? An onboarding program, even while addressing a diverse workforce, targets an isolated group – new employees.
  • What is their experience level? If the objective involves a new process, then senior field technicians may be on par with new recruits.
  • What is their education level?  For example, a level 1 Excel course would not likely help your college-educated accountants. However, improving how that team operates with others may be in order.
  • Does the current company culture align with the goals identified above? If not, then we failed an earlier step. Remember you have to identify realizable goals as part of any instructional design model.

Existing Materials Analysis:

We gain insight through two main criteria here. First, find previously used materials relative to the goal. After all, nobody wants to re-invent the wheel. Second, is an inspection of the effectiveness of any materials. While reusing content is logically correct, doing so with ineffective material is a setup for failure.

Instructional Design: Bridging the Gap between Analyze and Design

Subject Matter Expert Knowledge:

Companies depend upon their SMEs at multiple levels. This is particularly true when using the SAM model. In the early stages of the Design step, their experience with the subject helps guide the overall design. While not materials themselves, SMEs frequently act as such. It is common for organizations to depend upon information existing solely within key employees.  Generally referred to as Tribal Knowledge, it is almost unavoidable.

Two problems arise from this storage method. First, when the employee leaves or shifts positions, the knowledge goes with them. Second, if the employee does not feel like sharing – they effectively erased existing content. Because of this, capturing and retaining that information is critical to your organization’s ongoing success.

The second phase in this instructional design model, the design phase. This is where the grunt work occurs, and with good reason. While designing, changes are easy to implement, and they do not affect the production schedule.


Now that you have completed the analysis phase, it is time to design the deliverable. The deliverable itself depends on goal and the analyses.

For example, bringing the office staff of a multi-location up to speed on five new features of the email system. There is no existing material, as these are new features. However, Joe in IT understands the system inside and out. The audience are white collar, and have laptops.

Under these circumstances, it makes sense to develop a short eLearning module. Deploying it to employees is easy, and they can interact with it on their computers.

Time to begin outlining a project plan timeline. For an eLearning module, we will need the content itself and a user interface.


This is a representation of the content users will experience. A good storyboard describes all components of the module, such as graphics, animation, recordings, on-screen text, and audio script. Additionally, the storyboard should indicate when these items appear or animate over time. While the components will vary for each project, assume that for this project we will have; seven title screens, screen recordings of the five new features, voice-over of the steps.

Knowing this, we add to the project plan time to; meet with Joe to capture the steps, screen record the steps, and record the audio. To facilitate this, we put into our storyboard:

  1. The title screen text. One each for the intro and conclusion, and five more, one for each feature.
  2. The steps taken to make use of the new features, and any call-outs or highlights; Used as notes for screen recording, and may or may not appear on screen.
  3. The voice-over text.

Because our example is simple, consisting of steps and audio, the timing of events/animations is self-evident. With the storyboard in place, at least as a draft, it is time to focus on the user experience. This leads us to:


This is a prototype of the deliverable. It gives all involved a feel for the interactions of the project.

For a seminar, this may include hand written signage or paper cutouts of activity materials. It helps answer questions like, is this poster big enough, and readable, from the back of the room? Similarly, for our example eLearning project, the mock-up provides an opportunity to solicit feedback. Remember Joe your SME? He is probably a good source for this. As an illustration, Joe views the mock-up and notices that half of the usable screen real estate goes unused.

Using this information, you zoom in on the key parts of the screen, making it easier to see the action. In addition to discovering potential improvements, involving others increases their own buy-in for the project.

Time to move into the final phase in this this instructional design model, development. Whether outsourced, or in-house, it is time to create that design. If the analysis and design phases were productive, then this should be the easiest of them all.


Content Development

Remember when we were talking about scheduling time for various tasks? Well, the time has come to carry out the tasks. Continuing with our example, you meet with Joe and write out the steps. From there, you take screen recordings for each of the five features. Then, with a little editing, your written steps become an audio script that you send for recording.

Finally, you combine the screen recordings and audio in an eLearning development tool, using the structure built during mock-up. To finish it off, simply add in the title slides and synchronize the audio. How easy was that?

Quality Control

You know that learning materials such as; manuals, quick reference cards and eLearning modules must be of the highest quality. This is where QC comes into play. Even though we have vetted common errors, such as spelling, grammar during the design phase, keep on testing. Meticulously evaluate each component of the deliverable. Coming back to our example, we would look for even the simplest of aspects. Such as:

  • Is the volume correct and consistent?
  • Is the navigation user-friendly?
  • Did someone accidentally delete a period?
  • Is anything missing?
  • Does this solution align with the goal we started with at the very beginning?

The Instructional Design Feedback Loop

Though the SAM instructional design model consists of the Analyze → Design → Develop iterations, remember it is also cyclical. To help determine the end of the cycles, use two questions.

First, look up at the last bullet. Answering this question gives us a good idea about the likelihood project success.

The second question we take from the opening of this article, “was it effective,” is even more powerful. If our project aligns with the goals and is effective, then declare success. However, even in success, you can find room for improvement.

Where is improvement possible for your team?

Do you still have questions about instructional design, and its steps?