Instructional Design: Planning Success

  • Synergistx Synergistx
  • Updated:
instructional design

Have you done your research on instructional design? There are quite a few available models: ADDIE, MPI, SAM, Bloom’s Taxonomy – to name a few. Each one aims to make the acquisition of knowledge and skills effective and appealing. However, there are six things you should identify before choosing one.

Instructional Design Objectives

You try to maximize your training budget to meet targeted objectives. You want to design content and instruction methods that achieve those objectives. In order to do so, you must define a few key items.

  • What is your end goal?
    • What are the learning needs to meet this goal?
      • Who requires this training?
  • What content already exists?
    • Has training content been 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 specifically apply to SAM (Successive Approximation Model).

The SAM Instructional Design ModelSAM iteration

In brief, SAM is a cyclical process that includes three iterations: Analyze → Design → Develop. Due to its simplicity, SAM moves easily from prototype to full project. At the same time, the cyclical nature reveals issues for larger scale undertakings.


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

Identifying Learning Goals

To begin, you designate a goal. This could be any identifiable effect, from improved office etiquette to decreased accidents. Efficient knowledge transfer begins with realizable end goals. In essence, this provides a baseline against which to measure results.

Audience Analysis

Essentially, this is the “who.” Understanding the target audience allows for tailored messaging. Clarify the following questions (each relative to the goal) in respect to audience:

  • Is the audience 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 the experience level? If the objective involves a new process, then senior field technicians may be on par with new recruits.
  • What is the education level?  For example, a level 1 Excel course would likely not 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 an earlier step needs attention. Remember, you have to identify realizable goals as part of any instructional design model.

Existing Materials Analysis

You gain insight through two main criteria here. First, you find previously used materials relative to the goal. No one wants to reinvent the wheel. Second, you inspect the effectiveness of the previously used materials. While reusing content is logical, doing so with ineffective material becomes a setup for failure.

Instructional Design: Bridging the Gap between Analyze and Design

Subject Matter Expert Knowledge

Companies depend on their SMEs at multiple levels. This is particularly true when using the SAM model. In the early stages of the design phase, experience with the subject matter helps guide the overall design. While not materials themselves, SMEs frequently act as such. It is common for organizations to depend on information key employees retain internally. This is generally referred to as tribal knowledge.

Two problems arise from this storage and/or retrieval method. First, when employees leave or shift positions, the knowledge goes with them. Second, if employees do not share expertise – existing content is essentially erased. Because of this, capturing and retaining this information is critical to your organization’s ongoing success.

The design phase is the second phase in this instructional design model. While designing, changes are easy to implement; and they do not affect the production schedule.


After the analysis phase is complete, the deliverable is designed. The deliverable itself depends on the goal and analysis.

Case scenario: A multi-location company needs to update office staff on five new features of the email system. These are new features, so there is no existing material. However, Joe in IT understands the system thoroughly. The audience is white collar, and all have laptops.

Under these circumstances, it makes sense to develop a short eLearning module. Effectively deploying it to employees is easy and allows them to interact with it on their computers.

Outlining a project plan timeline is next. Content and a user interface is needed for an eLearning module.


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 components vary for each project, assume that for this project there are seven title screens, screen recordings of the five new features, and voice-over detailing necessary steps.

A meeting with Joe to capture the steps, screen record the steps, and record the audio is added to the project plan timeline. The storyboard includes the following:

  1. The title screen text – one, each, for the intro and conclusion in addition to five more for each feature.
  2. 2. All necessary steps to make use of the new features and any call-outs or highlights used as notes for screen recording (may or may not appear on screen).
  3. The voice-over text.

Because the example of steps and audio is simple, the timing of events/animations is self-evident. Once the storyboard in place, at least as a draft, focus is directed to the user experience. This leads to mock-up.


This is a prototype of the deliverable. It communicates a feel for the project interactions.

For a seminar, this may include hand-written signage or paper cutouts of activity materials. It helps answer questions such as is this poster big enough and readable from the back of the room? Similarly, in the eLearning project case scenario, the mock-up initiates feedback. Joe, the SME is most likely a good resource for this. To illustrate, Joe views the mock-up and notices that half of the usable screen real estate goes unused.

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

Development is the final phase in this this instructional design model. Outsourced or in-house resources are usable. If the analysis and design phases have been productive, this will be the easiest phase of all.


Content Development

Continuing with the case scenario, written steps are defined from the meeting with Joe. From there, screen recordings for each of the five features are taken. Necessary editing is completed, and your written steps become an audio script that is sent for recording.

Finally, you combine the screen recordings and audio in an eLearning development tool using the structure built during mock-up. To finish, the title slides are added, and the audio is synchronized for seamless completion.

Quality Control

Learning materials such as manuals, quick reference cards and eLearning modules must be of the highest quality. Common errors such as spelling and grammar are vetted throughout the process. Meticulous evaluation of each component of the deliverable is carried through completion.

  • Is the volume correct and consistent?
  • Is the navigation user-friendly?
  • Does this solution distinctly align with the goal originally designated?
  • Is anything unclear?

The Instructional Design Feedback Loop

The Analyze → Design → Develop iterations of the SAM instructional design model are cyclical to vitalize ongoing examination. Successful projects align with targeted goals and effectively facilitate productive change. Innovation, however, calls for intentionality in seeking opportunities for improvement.

Where is improvement possible for your team?

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