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Follow learning design frameworks

“What is a learning design framework?”

“What are some common learning design frameworks?"

“How do learning designers pick which framework to follow?”

Creating instructionally sound experiences is best achieved when learning designers follow systematic processes that balance the needs of both learners and the organizations who support them. The learning industry has produced a variety of frameworks, including waterfall and agile processes.

Through this lesson, you will learn how to describe the most common learning design frameworks in the industry.

What is a learning design framework?

Learning design frameworks outline phases of a learning project. In other words, they present the journey learning designers and their colleagues take from project inception to completion. For practical purposes, think of learning design frameworks as standard recipes that can be modified to meet the needs of a project.

While each learning design framework is unique, they typically fall into one of two categories: waterfall or agile. In waterfall frameworks, project teams move linearly through phases, checking off tasks in sequence until they’ve completed their final step. In agile projects, teams move cyclically through phases until they’ve reached their project goals.

What are some common learning design frameworks?

The two most common learning design frameworks in corporate settings include ADDIE and SAM (or variations thereof). Learning designers should also be familiar with Dick and Carey, which is more prominent in educational institutions but can be applied in corporate settings, as well.


ADDIE is a waterfall method, which means learning designers complete one phase in full before moving onto the next phase. This model was the most prevalent framework in the learning field until more agile frameworks bubbled up from the tech industry.

ADDIE stands for:

  • Analyze

  • Design

  • Develop

  • Implement

  • Evaluate

Each phase correlates to the learning responsibilities mentioned in LXD Factory’s Introduction to learning design lesson. For instance, during the Analyze phase, learning designers carry out a variety of tasks to identify organizational and learner needs (the first learning designer responsibility). During the Design phase, learning designers collaborate with stakeholders and content experts to design learning solutions (the second learning designer responsibility).

The "pro" for ADDIE is that it is easier to manage cost, time, and scope compared to more iterative models, because ADDIE is a fixed, linear process. However, the "con" for ADDIE is that it offers clients and learning designers little room to test, gather insights, and course correct until after a learning solution has been fully developed.

Scroll through the carousel below to discover how a learning designer named Tom used the ADDIE model in a project.


The Successive Approximation Model, or SAM, is a more agile (flexible) process that echoes the design thinking process used by the tech industry. Unlike ADDIE, learning designers who use SAM can move cyclically through phases as new insights about the learner are collected.

SAM has three phases:

  • Preparation: This phase feels a lot like the Analyze phase in ADDIE, (ideally) rich with research and information gathering.

  • Iterative design: In this phase, learning designers create a prototype (e.g. one lesson or video) and test it with stakeholders, content experts, and learners.

  • Iterative development: Using insights gained from testing the prototype, designers develop, implement, and test the full learning solution. Once the learning solution is approved (e.g. by a client or stakeholder), it can be launched to the target audience (either all at once or in phases).

To some learning designers and project managers who’ve been using ADDIE for decades, this process may feel a little "messy” and difficult to scope, but its flexibility allows designers to gather stakeholder, subject matter expert, and learner feedback early. With that information, they can modify the solution to better meet organizational and learner needs.

Scroll through the carousel below to discover how a learning designer named May used the SAM model in a project.

Dick and Carey

The Dick and Carey model (or the Systems Approach Model) is task-based (instead of phase-based), and it is more common in educational institutions. With nine tasks, it includes and expands on the five ADDIE phases–albeit with a more agile twist. When following this model, learning designers can complete ongoing revisions for all tasks:

  1. Define learning goals.

  2. Conduct learning analysis.

  3. Identify prerequisites and learner characteristics.

  4. Write performance objectives.

  5. Develop criterion-referenced assessments.

  6. Develop instructional strategies.

  7. Create and curate instructional materials.

  8. Gather learning data.

  9. Refine the learning experience.

Scroll through the carousel below to discover how a learning designer named Joe used the Dick and Carey model in a project.

How do learning designers pick which framework to follow?

Learning design frameworks are often selected by project managers, lead designers, or learning designers who are working alone. When selecting a framework, it’s important to consider the complexity of the project. Simple, straightforward solutions (e.g. converting a 30-minute Lunch and Learn into a virtual Webinar) may do well in a waterfall approach, where interim testing isn’t required. However, when venturing into the unknown–in terms of learning audiences, delivery methods, content (e.g. how likely is it to change?)--more agile approaches that allow for testing and refinement may be a better fit.

Scroll through the carousel below to review scenarios for selecting learning design frameworks.

Summary and next steps

Learning designers follow systemic processes for creating instructional experiences. While there are dozens of frameworks in existence, the most commonly referenced frameworks in the industry are ADDIE, SAM, and Dick and Carey. Because industry professionals consider frameworks more like standard recipes that can be adjusted to meet their needs, learning designers will often see variations of these common frameworks put into practice. It is important for learning designers to be flexible and accommodating as they strive to deliver instructionally sound materials while also meeting the needs of the organizations they serve.

Now that you are familiar with learning design frameworks, continue to the next lesson in LXD Factory’s Learn the basics series: Explain learning theories.


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