21 Years Later – The Attack on ISD and ADDIE & My Counter-Attacks

It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again

Back in April 2000 Training Magazine ran a “hit piece” on ISD – titled appropriately “The Attack on ISD.”

So I responded with an article – and publication cycles being what they were back-in-the-day – 11-13 months if you were lucky – it didn’t get published until August 2002.


You can read that 11 page April 2000 Training Magazine article as a PDF – here.

My Response Article

In the April 2000 issue, Training Magazine raised complaints about instructional
systems design (ISD) to a new level of our consciousness.

They outlined the complaints:

• ISD is too slow and clumsy to meet today’s training challenges.

Yes, ISD’s pace is glacial in an Internet world demanding speed and adapting to constant
change. Statements such as “the analysis itself will take a month and a half” make our
clients and critics lose patience. But ISD can move quickly, deliberately, and systematically. Our approach is very visible, predictable, repeatable, and systematic. It is “lean.”

• There’s no “there” in ISD.

This questions whether there is an instructional “technology” for training in the first
place. Too often people have learned from “stuff” that was created in processes that
didn’t follow the ISD-ADDIE model. We disagree.

• Used as directed, ISD produces bad solutions.

Yes, too often ISD begins without a business purpose in mind, and therefore can be
applied poorly. Or it over-reacts to a fraud, such as designing for “learning styles” (a
concept easy to like but thoroughly debunked by actual research), resulting in wasted
effort and time. Or it breaks the learning process into ridiculously tiny increments
and forces unnecessary exercises and assessments.

• It clings to the wrong world view.

Training Magazine’s article suggests that ISD arrogantly assumes a “stupid learner”
who needs constant handholding to learn anything, and instruction designed to
the lowest common denominator. But that’s if the “product” was intended to teach
to the lowest common denominator, either because that’s where the bulk of the
learners were and/or the enterprise simply couldn’t afford multiple versions, or the
ISDer didn’t know how to chunk it and create multiple entry points in the learning
process, or the deployment method wouldn’t allow for that.

While we disagree with most of these blanket statements, we know there is some
truth in these complaints for many of the ISD approaches we’ve seen in action, or
seen in the results thereof. Those complaints in “the ATTACK on ISD” resonated with
us too, because we’ve heard them before.

It continues…

For the free 5 page PDF – click here.

Attack – Counter-Attack

The attack continues – on ISD or ADDIE – “same diff” as we used to say back-in-the-day – and has over the past 2 decades – quite regularly.

But seldom have I seen a viable replacement recommended – that won’t cost you to get a peek. Or address it “partially.”

Put Up Or Shut Up

In 2007 I made my 1999 “lean-ISD” book available as a free PDF. It’s a book that I started back in 1983 – and 16 years later – Voilà – it was done.

Get the free PDF version – here – or get it as a Kindle ($7.50) or Paperback ($16.00) – here.

Then in 2011 I updated that book and several others into a six pack. Bob Mager chuckled when I told him that I too had a six pack.

My most recent book – #15 for those keeping score – focused in on my ADDIE-like approach: MCD – Modular Curriculum Development – and how Analysis needs to be conducted in each and every phase. My MCD has 6 phases.

My practice of an ADDIE-like approach was never a Waterfall approach as I was taught to do it back in 1979.

We did things roughly in that sequence (after Planning & budgeting) & deferred somethings (mostly in the Analysis arena) until the Design & Development efforts.

We deferred some things in Analysis until later in the process to avoid Analysis Paralysis, until Just in Time. In my 2nd job in ISD I was on the team to develop our Design Process (w/ Geary Rummler as our consultant) and I resisted the attempt to make it a waterfall process where we would hand over a Design Document to a developer(s)/ writer(s) and they would produce the final Instruction for Pilot Testing without needing any interaction with Exemplars/ SMEs.

My next gig was as an ISD Consultant and Practice Leader, and I ensured a different approach where detailed Analysis efforts were deferred and the approach more akin to a “layered/evolving” approach – I’ve never been comfortable referring to THAT as iterative – as I’m pretty sure my clients would hate to pay for ReWork as I refer to THAT – and would accept an approach where we incrementally built on the prior efforts, adding more detailed (with approvals/redirects via Gate Review Meeting in between) to keep the effort moving with the client’s involvement (taking them on the journey w/ their hands on the wheel) and that’s the slant of my latest book from 2020: Conducting performance-based Instructional Analysis: Analysis Should Occur in Every Phase of an Instructional Systems Design & Development Effort Targeted at High Stakes Performance.

My ISD/ADDIE-like approach is FIRST: Performance-Centric … prior to SECOND being Performer/Learner-Centric – by taking into account their varied Job Assignments as everyone with the same Job Title don’t always have the same Performance Requirements – and their varied Incoming K/Ss from prior Education & Experiences.

And while I’m at it … Task Analysis without recognition of the Outputs it produces is akin to Gilbert’s Cult of Behaviors where addressing behaviors as the “be-all/end-all” sans Accomplishments – worthy Performance that meets stakeholder requirements both for Tasks & Outputs – is a Partial Approach – akin to Partial Quality Management (as opposed to Total Quality Management) where key factors aren’t recognized and addressed – and we should all be aware of how often that works out as a worthy investment for the shareholders.

That’s my 41 Years in the Biz Story – and I’m sticking to it.


Focus on the Performance Requirements

– and Enable Them

All My Books

See my Authors Page at Amazon – here – for all 15 of my books.


One comment on “21 Years Later – The Attack on ISD and ADDIE & My Counter-Attacks

  1. Pingback: The Lively and Disagreeable Podcast – References & Resources | The Pursuing Performance Annex

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