Which Instructional Design Model Should You Use – ADDIE or Backward Design?

The unassuming youth seeking instruction with humility gains good fortune. ~ Joseph Addison ~

When it comes to Instructional Design, there is always a mixture of reason and confusion at play.

Entrusted with the job to develop an online course for a life coach or a business coach, I often find opinion divided between which of the two popular models is the ideal one to go for – ADDIE or Backward Design.

Both have their pros and cons, and it is quite likely that one is better than the other in a specific situation. I do not proclaim to be an expert on either, but studying them closely for a while and using a bit of both for my needs, I feel there are some distinct instances where one can work better than the other.

In this article let me explore the ADDIE vs. Backward Design dilemma and find out which of the two is preferable when and why.

First, let’s briefly look at what these models broadly are.



ADDIE is an acronym that stands for Analysis > Design > Development > Implementation > Evaluation.

It’s an Instructional Systems Design (ISD) framework that helps course makers to design and develop educational and training programs by exploring the needs at one end and the results expected at the other.

In 1975 ADDIE was designed and developed for the U.S. Army by the Center for Educational Technology at Florida State University; it was later implemented across all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Starting with Analyze there are 5 stages in the ADDIE model, pictorially shown below.

5 stages of ADDIE model

5 stages of ADDIE model for instructional design

It’s a forward-moving model that culminates with Evaluation. At this stage, the entire course is tested from the angles of what, how, why, and when of the things that were to be accomplished.

ADDIE is a forward moving 5-stage #eLearning model that ends with Evaluation. Click To Tweet

As evident in the diagram, there is constantly an interaction between the Evaluation stage and each of the other 4 stages. If a shortcoming is identified in any one of them it is rectified in that stage, the cycle then usually repeats from that stage onward, coming back to Evaluation again.

A recently modified version of the ADDIE model is known by the acronym PADDIE+M where P and M, one at each end, stand for Planning and Maintenance respectively.

These 2 stages were added by the US Navy when the ADDIE model underwent revision while being tested for their training needs.


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Backward Design Model

In contrast with ADDIE, the Backward Design typically starts from the end-purpose backward. It assumes that the aim of a course should be a speedy assimilation of skills by the learners (pictorially explained below).

Backward Design Model

Backward Design Model for instructional design

Backward Design was first mooted in 1949 by Ralph Tyler; later in 1998-99, the idea was introduced in curriculum design by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins.

The model of backward course design is simple and works in 3 stages.

It starts from:

  1. A course’s learning goals, then…
  2. works backward to decide what skills will demonstrate achievement of the learning goals, and finally…
  3. works further backward to decide what content is required to support those skills.


Comparing The 2 Models – ADDIE Vs. Backward Design

Based on conversations in different online forums, most eLearning course developers are usually found to be broadly supportive of either one of the 2 models, usually not both.

However, studying the 2 models objectively, it is possible to draw conclusions that can help determine which model is the ideal choice in a given situation.

Here is a brief comparative analysis of the 2 models.

Camparing the 2 instructional design models

Comparing ADDIE with Backward Design model


Which One To Go For And Why?

In the above analysis, it is rather obvious that the ADDIE model is ideal for course designing in a controlled environment like internal training in companies, pre-defined learning in schools and colleges as per syllabus, etc.

Course evaluation is a critical feature in the ADDIE model, which seeks to emphasize a common learning goal.

For example, customer relations training in a company will have the same learning goal for all the participating employees. Similarly, a course on Applied Math in a college will have the same goal for all the students who study it.

In contrast, if you’re teaching graphic design skills in an open course to all the students across the globe, you may not know what they intend to do after learning the course.

The purpose of learning, in this case, could be widely varying for one student from that of another. Thus, if you intend selling courses on marketplaces like Udemy, you may opt for Backward Design model for your online courses.

Use Backward Design for #eLearning course if you're a solo teacher and want fast turnaround. Click To Tweet


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Arguably, compared to internal courses, the online courses for the students at large can afford to be less feature-rich, depending largely on video lessons or presentations supported with simple supplements like PDF transcripts, etc.

On the other hand, internal training based on ADDIE model will seek to have a lot more interactivities thrown in because it has a specific purpose to attain in terms of students’ participation and performance.

Both ADDIE and Backward Design are popular established methods for designing training curriculum, and both have their own dedicated followers. Indecision arises when the ADDIE user fails to apprehend the circumstances where Backward Design can be apter and vice versa.

Do share your views below for more discussions on the Instructional Design models.

[A version of this article I wrote for the eLearning Industry blog first appeared here.]

2018-03-28T12:19:50+00:00 E-Learning|

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