Is the ADDIE Model Right for Global Learning Initiatives?

This article is part of a series meant to equip the learning leaders of global organizations on the best practices for creating engaging and impactful learning experiences for every team member, no matter the region or culture. CLICK HERE to see a list of the topics covered in this series and access the articles.

The ADDIE Model

The ADDIE model is known to everyone who has completed an instructional design certification or degree program. The question is, does the model fit the needs of global learning development?

Developed at Florida State University in 1975, ADDIE has been the gold standard learning development process for several generations of instructional design. Its appeal is that it is a linear waterfall methodology in which one step leads to the next which results in a well-planned, considered, built, released, and evaluated learning experience. 

No one argues for removing any of the ADDIE steps. Even those who propose different models still include some version of each part of the process. Still, there are valid criticisms including the amount of time and effort required at each phase. Testing and prototyping do not seem to have a place. ADDIE’s linear approach might have been popular fifty years ago, but iteration is in vogue now and ADDIE is not naturally iterative. The process seems clunky to some and they may be right. Michael Allen’s work on the Successive Approximation Model is worthy of consideration as it simplifies ADDIE and scratches the iterative itch among others. (

For the purposes of this article, let’s simply say that analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation are essential components of a good design process in which multiple stages may be happening simultaneously. Rearrange the order or call the steps something different if it’s helpful. 

The Current State of Corporate Global Learning

The concern is whether ADDIE or some derivative is the right approach for corporate learning teams with a global workforce. The first article in this series painted a less-than-rosy picture. The consulting company, McKinsey, surveyed 300 senior executives at global companies and found that “few surveyed executives felt that their companies were good at transferring lessons learned in one emerging market to another.” In other words, even when learning worked well in the location of their headquarters, it most often did not achieve its objectives in other regions of the globe. Learn more in last week’s article here.

Perhaps even more disturbing, according to the researchers at McKinsey, “Barely half the executives at the 17 global companies we studied in depth thought they were effective at tailoring recruiting, retention, training, and development processes for different geographies.”

There are three choices related to models for building global learning experiences. The first is to embrace ADDIE as the right model with few or no adjustments. The second is to abandon ADDIE and find or build something new. The third is to accept the steps of the model but take a fresh look at implementation that will better connect with global learners.

This series of articles will advocate for the third option. Subsequent articles will dive deeper into each stage, but for now, let’s get a broader perspective on the ADDIE system to gain some insights. 

ADDIE and Globalization 

When ADDIE was created, its creators were not considering multilingual, multicultural applications. The world was a very different place in 1975. The technological advances that would make “globalization” not only popular but also a significant business strategy would not arrive until the 1980s. There were early adopters, of course, like General Motors and others, but the numbers remained small. Theodore Levitt’s research at Harvard University led to an article titled,

“The Globalization of Markets,” published in the Harvard Business Journal in 1983. It described a brave new globalized world in the corporate landscape. It is an understatement to say that it caught on. There are about sixty thousand multinational corporations today that are responsible for more than half of all international trade

A Moment for Reflection

We are still early on in figuring out how to train and develop a global workforce. Widespread globalization and the most prevalent models for building learning are both less than fifty years old. It should not surprise us that there is a steep learning curve for learning professionals. It is most likely that what we do not need is a new model but smart ways to apply the model that has been the standard.

We do not need to eradicate the steps of ADDIE. We need to talk about who is included in them and whose voices, stories, and culture will be represented. The problem is not a model. It is an assumption of mono-culturalism in which a single culture (and often language) is dominant and all others are subservient. 

We need to consider not only whose voices will be included, but when they will be included in the process. Rather than building a truly global learning experience, it is more common that learning is developed by people in the same culture in a single language. Translation and localization happen after the analysis, design, and development have already occurred. The problem has already been identified, possible solutions have already been considered, and decisions have been made. Translation and localization happen in the implementation stage, or, best case, near the end of the development stage. 

Global corporate learning will make progress when it becomes more inclusive along every stage of the ADDIE model. A different model with reordered steps is not the cure. Multilingual, multicultural companies need learning teams that are multilingual and multicultural. 

We need to evolve and that process will be advanced when analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation includes people who are part of the cultures of the learners themselves.

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