Book review: Leaving ADDIE for SAM: will agile eLearning development become mainstream?

I have read the book from Michael Allen ( and Richard Sites) with a lot of interest and it is a book that I can recommend to read, it does explain the why and the how of the approach and it contains a lot of practical stuff like examples and check list that will help you get started.

I believe that an agile approach will bring a lot of benefits to e-Learning development. I wrote a couple of post on this subject in the past few years so I am delighted that a heavy weight in our learning domain supports this trend, hopefully making it more mainstream. I’m interested in agile development because we develop the easygenerator software in an agile way. It gives huge advantages over the classic ‘waterfall’ models. I believe if you translate this to e-Learning development, it will change not only the way we create e-Learning courses, but also the courses itself. Michael and Richard present us an agile alternative for ADDIE: SAM (Successive Approximation Model).

The book starts with why we need a new approach. It lists the short comings of a lot of e-Learning courses in a clear way. It is followed by an analysis of ADDIE, looking at its original form and some new manifestations. It makes interesting reading because it is not a theoretical story but they have written it from the perspective of the learners needs. Their conclusion is: ADDIE falls short, we need something else (and I agree).

In the third chapter they have a look at what ‘good’ eLearning should be, I quote: “Concise, effective learning events, whether delivered through e-Learning or not, are meaningful, memorable, and motivational. And they achieve measurable results, too.” And they explain CCAF (Context, challenge, activity, feedback). With this they set the stage for the process and introduce SAM.

There is a simple version (SAM1), for small projects”


And a more extended version (SAM2) for larger projects”


I will not discuss all details (you should read the book) but what they do is take the iterative nature (short development sprints) of agile development and combine it with a prototyping approach. I like this; it will bring a lot of the advantages of agile software development to your e-Learning development. The book contains a huge amount of examples, checklists and even a complete project plan. It will help you to create learning goals and it gives examples of specific approaches (like the Savvy start and prototyping). The Savvy start is the second concept they introduce in this book. A concept that will help you to become more agile in your design process. It is clear that both authors have a few decades of combined experience in eLearning development. This enables them not only to develop an approach but explain it with very practical examples. And as you can expect from me I’m very happy with the chapter on instructional objectives, this is the way it should be done! The second part of this book is so rich, that even if you don’t want to switch to a more agile approach it is a must read. It is a goldmine of useful tips for every instructional designer.

Michael and Richard created a great foundation for a new agile approach. At the same time I think that they missed a lot of best practices and techniques that an agile approach can offer you. Daily stand ups, user stories, a back log, agile estimations, setting priorities, an agile team, demo’s to involve your clients. There is a lot more that can be used. I will write some future posts on this, trying to make the translation from best practices and techniques in agile software development to Agile e-Learning development. I will try to add another practical layer to the SAM foundation.

Ordering information Leaving ADDIE for SAM:

Books published by ASTD Press can be purchased by visiting ASTD’s website at or by calling 800.628.2783 or 703.683.8100:

  • Library of Congress Control Number (print edition only): 2009940017
  • PDF e-book edition ISBN: 978-1-60728-675-2
  • Print edition ISBN: 978-1-56286-711-9

And finally some links to earlier post I wrote on agile eLearning development:

  •  A post with links to other ‘agile’ eLearning posts
  • A post that I wrote for the ASTD’s big question blog on agile development
  • And my first post on agile development after I joined easygenerator

This post is part of a series I’m writing on agile eLearning development:

More post will follow over the next few weeks.

Book review: Blackboard essentials for teachers

PACKT Publishing asked me to write a review about the book ‘Blackboard essentials for teachers’ by William Rice. It is an instructional book on how to build courses in Blackboard. I get these kind of request occasionally, but most of the times I will not go into them. This time I did because as a CEO of an authoring tool it is very interesting to keep up to date with the authoring capabilities of Learning Management Systems. I was curious if this book could give me a clear impression on how Blackboard works and what kind of facilities it offers. And I must say, it did.

I must say that it is a very clear and instructive book. He has written it from the perspective of a teacher. The book has lot’s of screen shots, clear step-by-step instructions and it covers the subjects in a logical way. It has tips and warnings and could actually guide a teacher through the complex system Blackboard is and let him create, publish and use an eLearning course. It doesn’t stop at the creation of a course but it also covers how to deploy the course, and even how to grade your students. If I was a teacher and had to create a course within Blackboard I would be very happy with this book.

I don’t have access to Blackboard, nevertheless it gave me a very good impression on what the functionalities are and how to use them. The one thing that I missed are instructions on how to use of external course material. It does cover how to include content elements like images and video, but not how to use an external SCORM or QTI package.  As a teacher you probably want to use external courses as well, and especially within universities there will be often be a  department that will deliver the final assessment to you. Apart from this I can recommend this book to you. More info is available at PACKT.

Book review: REWORK. 12 quotes and comments

A book straight from my heart: Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hanson. They are the two of the people behind the company 37signals. They build products like Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack, Ruby on Rails and more. And they have done that with just 12 people! A fresh view on business and success. I want to share some interesting quotes from the book. I added comments to them. There are a lot more great one liners in the book, so read it!

Planning is guessing
I complete agree with this, you need a clear direction not a 100 page business plan. This is why I like agile software development so much. You focus on the now, doing what you can do.

Small is a great destination in itself
The fact that 37signals is able to build and support so many products and support so many customers is amazing. It must mean that there is a truth in this. I always chose to work for ‘small’ companies, large enough to make an impact, but small enough to still be fun to work for. I don’t know if ‘small’ should be a goal, but I do know growing big isn’t.

Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up.
This one I like and it’s true, but there is a catch. I’m writing this blog on a Sunday morning, but I don’t consider it to be work. Or is it?

Put a meaningful dent in the universe
Work must be meaningful. In the past I created a lot of online help systems, often for terrible software. I stopped doing that because I felt that if the programmers would do a better job a lot of my work would be superfluous. Now I create software and I hope that we can make a difference.

Scratch your own itch
This is the most important one. If you try to solve a problem that bothers you, you know what you want and where to go. I detest the way a lot of e-Learning authoring tools work, how they limit you in what you can do and the kind of e-Learning you can create with them. The best way to solve this problem is to create software yourself, software that works for you. It is very likely that others will like it to. It gives a completely different drive in comparison to someone who does something because he wants to make his first million before turning 30.

Constrains are advantages in disguise
Yes, if you have unlimited resources the chances of getting anywhere are very slim. If you have limited resources you need to prioritize and focus and then you will get somewhere.

Interruption is the enemy of production
I work from home at least two days a week. I save work that I really need to concentrate on for these days. It is a productivity boost!

Momentum fuels motivation
This is true. If you feel that you are moving in the right direction it is motivating. This one is connected to the ‘planning’ quote. Having goals at close range, that you can strive for gives you the sense of success and momentum!

Build an audience
I like this one. I read about turning your customers into fans, but I never read about turning fans into an audience. I guess it is what I hope to achieve with this blog and the presentations I do. Interesting I never thought about it in this way.

Out-teach your competition
This is a special one, teaching is a great way to stand out from the competition. It is something we can improve on at easygenerator. I will make it a priority from now on.

As a business owner you should share everything you know
I do agree, if you share your recipe you don’t share your talent. And sharing will generate feed back that will help you to improve. When I started at easygenerator I wrote two post on our vision and mission. They weren’t finished marketing material, but a snap shot of work in progress. I got a lot of feed back on these post, enabling me to improve them. For me this works way better than having secret sessions guided by an expensive consultant.

You don’t create culture, it happens
Interesting one, but it is true. As one of the employees you can deliver ingredients for a business culture, but your colleagues will do to. You never know what it will taste like until you eat it. I do think that as an CEO you can impact a culture substantially especially through your behavior. If you want an open, direct and honest culture, just act that way. Don’t put it in slogans on the walls.


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