NOT ANOTHER PODCAST! covers the latest trends and research in online learning, educational technology, and instructional design. In our second episode (Sept 10, 2022), we explore the connections between ADDIE, design thinking, and LLAMA. Then, we share some thoughts on the waterfall versus agile debate.

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Podcast Transcript

I’m your host, Brittany Robinson, from

I’m an Instructional Experience Designer and eLearning Strategist working at the intersection of education and technology for corporate and higher education clients. 

Let’s get started with this week’s topic–ADDIE vs LLAMA vs Agile

This week I watched a powerful 2020 YouTube video called Navigate Ambiguity from Stanford University’s

When you remove ambiguity and experiential learning, you remove the student’s agency and you’re left with a binary where the student relies on the instructor to TELL them, and telling isn’t the same thing as teaching or training

Ambiguity can lead to design thinking and very creative work.

As an instructional designer, you can imagine how this might apply to triarchic theory and generative learning, and motivate students by giving them more agency over their learning process and their projects.

Stanford gives students multiple different requirements and has the students determine on their own which ones are the most important; the instructors are there to offer help and guidance without giving them the correct answers or the entire plan from getting from point A to Z.

I’ve worked for learning directors who have been adamantly against ambiguity, saying it’s a very frustrating experience as a learner and it leads to poor outcomes. I would hypothesize that there’s a certain balance. You need to provide enough scaffolding and practice activities (potentially even active learning activities) beforehand so that your students can be successful. But, avoiding ambiguity and holding the student’s hand through everything or trying to have 100% control is not doing them any favors.

Speaking of ambiguity and Design Thinking, I’ve been investigating the connections between ADDIE, Agile, LLAMA, and Design Thinking this week. 

Even just the overall flow of design thinking–empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test–mirrors the ADDIE stages of Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate.

Design thinking and Agile both focus on empathy as a first step.

In Design Thinking, you ask how might we…?

Whereas in Agile you might say: as a [learner] I want to… so that….

ADDIE sometimes gets a bad rep because it’s based upon waterfall methodology. But the fact is that ADDIE is the original scientific linear logical process for instructional design. ADDIE mirrors the Design thinking approach. In many ways, it mirrors Plan > Do > Study > Act. And, given that it dates back to the rise of instructional design in the 1970s, it is also the foundation for SAM and LLAMA

Speaking of LLAMA, for those who aren’t familiar, LLAMA stands for lot like agile management approach for instructional design. 

Unlike ADDIE, which was developed by the United States government roughly 50 years ago, LLAMA is newer (within the last 10-20yrs.) 

LLAMA was developed by Meagan Torrance and is a registered trademark of Torrance Learning. 

Let me be clear: LLAMA is not 100% agile. 

What Torrance Learning did was take the government’s ADDIE approach, which is traditionally very waterfall, and made it iterative so that it can be more easily applied to Agile working environments, like the ones we typically experience in corporate America or at tech startups. 

At one point, Torrance Learning even offered a self-paced eLearning course on their website, although as of the date of this recording in September 2022, that course now redirects to the homepage and no longer seems to be available 

So, it’s unclear whether LLAMA courses are still being offered at TorranceLearning.

Regardless, I’ve been asked by previous employers to implement LLAMA for instructional design in an Agile working environment. I’ve seen LLAMA in action at companies based in Wisconsin or Michigan, which makes sense because TorranceLearning is also based in Michigan. 

LLAMA is pretty similar to the iterative approach I use, even when I’m working with a traditional ADDIE methodology; instead of saving evaluation for the very end, I’ll perform multiple rounds of iteration and evaluation/feedback, with design/development in between each round. 

So it looks like this:

Analysis>Design>Development>Implementation & Evaluation >Design>Development>Implementation & Evaluation>Design>Development>Implementation & Evaluation (repeat as much as needed.)

In practice, you’re creating a very usable first draft, getting feedback, then adjusting, presenting the second draft, getting feedback, and adjusting again. For example, imagine that you work for a university that’s trying to improve the learner experience, increase enrollments, and reduce dropout rates. Let’s say that you have conducted analysis and research, you have your data points, and now you’re ready to start ideating solutions.

Start with Empathy – the key skill we’ll need to be successful IDs.

Who is the audience? What are their pain points? How might you solve them? Put yourself in the learner’s shoes.

Initial ideation: reduce # of live sessions, make live sessions optional, record so learners can watch later.

But then you conduct evaluation/feedback and someone informs you:

There’s a scholarly research article that was published in Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journalin 2021, vol. 49, issue 8, titled: Antecedents and consequences of college students’ satisfaction with online learning. 

In this article, the researchers (N. Um & A. Jang) proposed that antecedents leading to online learning students dropping out of college included:

“interactions, teaching presence, self-management of learning, and academic self-efficacy.”

Consequences would be the “intention to continue to use online learning.”

The study, which involved 236 college students, was published in 2021, making it incredibly recent and relevant during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, here’s what their findings suggest:

Students’ satisfaction with online learning = positively related to the interactions between students and instructors, teaching presence, self-management of learning, and academic self-efficacy.

Student satisfaction with online learning = positively predicted their intention to continue to use online learning. 

Conclusion:  educators should find ways to increase student satisfaction; 

There’s a need for increased knowledge among educators of correlation between student satisfaction and students’ intention to continue online learning.

So you might adjust your initial idea and create a second draft that you implement, then do another round of evaluation and feedback. Then rinse and repeat.

That’s the process in action!

Now, let’s address the title of this podcast, which yes, was inspired by my favorite TLC song – “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls.” There’s this tenacious argument we hear so often in the instructional design industry that we should move away from ADDIE because it’s not Agile enough, it’s too waterfall.

But that’s not realistic for every project, and that’s not a good fit for every client.

There’s this pressure to, as Mark Zuckerberg puts it, “fail faster” – or test throughout the process instead of at the end.

Some industries should stay ADDIE/waterfall because there’s a high risk of harm if something slips through the cracks.. government, military, healthcare, legal field, some universities… And sometimes, the client and/or SME may not have the time/capacity to review several iterations and provide feedback multiple times. 

For instance, I worked with the State of California back in 2016 on a massive ID project for the correction industry’s healthcare system. 

An Agile or iterative approach was discussed, but we ultimately decided against it because we can’t pull lawyers out of trial or interrupt neurosurgeons during surgery to have them provide feedback on a design. 

Remember, your SME’s time is valuable and what looks good on paper or in theory may not be the best solution to apply in real life. In some instances, traditional ADDIE really does make the most sense. 

If you’re not familiar with ADDIE or with waterfall methodology versus Agile, Jason Clark, President of VIA Studio in Louisville, Kentucky, USA, created a 2015 YouTube video called Art, Copy, Code – The Agile Edition, which does a good job of explaining the differences between Waterfall and Agile methodology.

Hopefully, this sparks some ideas that you can apply to your instructional design process.

That’s it for today’s episode. Thank you for listening, and I’ll see you next week as we unpack learning experience design!