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6 Secrets for Speeding Up Instructional Design


Thu Oct 01 2015

6 Secrets for Speeding Up Instructional Design

The ADDIE versus SAM (Successive Approximation Model) debate has been swirling around for several years now—in an effort to speed up the instructional design process. I’ve heard people say that ADDIE is too slow, while others claim that SAM is too complicated. 

If instructional design is taking too long, I can assure you that it’s not ADDIE’s fault, But it’s not SAM’s, either. We turn around training projects in record-breaking time, and I never so much as think about either ADDIE or SAM. Really, never. 


Here are my six secrets to speeding up instructional design. 

#1: Triage Needs Assessment 

No matter how pressed for time, you can’t skip this step. If you do, you won’t know what you are actually training people to do. That’s not good. 

But just because you can’t skip the needs assessment, it doesn’t mean that you have to do a 30-question survey to 1,200 employees complete with sophisticated statistical analysis of the results. Usually, it’s sufficient to talk to the leader or manager who requested the training, paired with an interview or survey with a sampling of people who will receive training. 

You can see exactly what I ask, in my needs assessment triage 3-part series. The whole process should take very little time. I find the biggest time suck is getting on people’s calendars, not the actual needs assessment.

#2: Develop Content First 

Many instructional designers like to develop the content and design the activities in tandem. I think it gets their creative juices flowing, but it doesn’t make sense to me. How do you know how you will teach something if you don’t know what you are teaching?


This back and forth inevitably happens, even if it is just in the designer’s head. What’s more, it eats up valuable time. I think it’s much faster to develop the “content” first, and then focus on designing the activities.

#3: Keep the Activities Simple

Corporate training does not have to be edutainment. There, I said it.

Training is helping people learn something new so they can do their jobs better. You don’t need complicated activities to do this. You do need activities that give people a chance to practice the tasks they will be doing on the job, and offer them feedback on their efforts.

Yes, games can be a fun way to drill and practice, and use them frequently. If you are pressed for time, though, use one of the popular game templates. Indeed, Jeopardy has been around for years. And, you know what? It still works.

#4: Put the Kibosh on Wordsmithing 

I have never seen wordsmithing actually contribute to increased clarity. Rather, it typically reflects the personal preference of the wordsmith. This opens the door to others to put in their two cents. Before you know it, people are undoing each other’s work in effort to make sure that the final version reflects their personal preference. This is a huge waste of everyone’s time.


Subject matter experts should be reviewing training content for accuracy and completeness. That’s it. Grammar and style should be off limits. We actually use a professional editor, so we can take grammar and style comments off the table.

#5: Break the Project into Mini Projects

I think instructional design projects get bogged down because they feel big and amorphous, and have lots of moving parts. We address this challenge by breaking the project into mini-projects—each with its own schedule and tangible deliverable. For example, one mini-project might consist of writing the content outline, another might be doing a full content write up, and a third might be developing the design document.

The added benefit of this approach is that we get subject matter experts to weigh in on each deliverable. This helps us make sure that we are on track and can course correct before we’ve invested time and energy doing the wrong thing.

#6: Divide and Conquer

Rather than have a single instructional designer do everything, we divide the course design and development tasks among multiple team members. This enables us to shorten the timeline by scheduling work to happen simultaneously whenever possible. For example, while the editor is working on the storyboard, the graphic designer gathers and prepares images or designs the user interface. I also can assign the instructional designer to the next project while the current project is being programmed.

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