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“ID professionals should be competent in applying (and possibly adapting) a variety of models to meet the requirements of specific situations.” (Gustafson & Branch, 2002)[1].

Models, theories and approaches to learning and educational design are often tweaked – and new ones based upon ‘the modern learner’ research continue to emerge.

So, what are some key learning design models?

Here are some of the most popular instructional design models:

Let’s take a brief look at SAM, AGILE and Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction.


Created by Dr. Michael Allen of Allen Interactions, the Successive Approximation Model (SAM) is one of the most popular ID models, particularly for eLearning.

There are two versions of this iterative process – SAM1 for small projects and teams, and SAM2 for large-scale projects and teams.

SAM1 consists of three cyclical steps: Evaluate, Design and Develop.

SAM2, the extended version, consists of eight steps across three project stages:

  1. Preparation: Background information is gathered.
  2. Iterative Design: The program is designed and prototype evaluated.
  3. Iterative Development: The final product is developed, implemented and evaluated for further improvements.


AGILE is an approach that originated in software development, but has been adopted by Instructional Designers. It’s particularly useful in project management, as it breaks deliverables down into achievable chunks. Its purpose is to provide a nimble, adaptable instructional design process. – useful when there are plenty of in-the-moment resolutions to ‘known unknowns’.

AGILE is an acronym for its five key phases:

  1. Align
  2. Get set
  3. Iterate and implement
  4. Leverage
  5. Evaluate

Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction

Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction provides a process that Instructional Designers can use to structure and enhance learning experiences. This systematic process is most relevant for face-to-face training sessions.

The following nine events are intended to be carried out sequentially to support the learning process:

  1. Gain the attention of the students.
  2. Inform the learner of the objective.
  3. Stimulate recall of prior learning.
  4. Present the content.
  5. Provide learning guidance.
  6. Elicit the performance.
  7. Provide feedback.
  8. Assess the performance.
  9. Enhance retention and transfer.

Final thoughts

As Instructional Designers, it’s imperative that we’re aware of a wide variety of instructional design models and learning theories. We’re valued for our ability to draw on learning theories and select the processes and methodologies that are best suited to the specific needs of each project.

The more approaches we’re aware of (and tools we have), the more flexible, adaptive and learner-centric we can be.

Relevant articles:


[1] Gustafson, K., & Branch, R. (2002). Survey of Instructional Development Models (Fourth Edition). New York: Clearinghouse of Instructional Technology, Syracuse University.

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