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3 Ways to Start Implementing the SAM Process in Your Organization


by , vice president - training and marketing | @rhillsites

Richard Sites, vice president

Over past couple of years, I have taught a number of workshops on SAM (Successive Approximation Model) and have given even more talks on the subject. In these workshops and talks, I always get the same basic questions, which I guess makes sense since I am talking about the same thing. But, the one question I can guarantee I will be asked is,  “How do I implement SAM in my organization?”

While I am happy to be asked this question, as I firmly believe organizations benefit from the efficiencies and improvement in quality gained in an iterative process, this is a tough question to answer! Truthfully, it is nearly impossible to answer even in a 2-day workshop, let alone a 90-minute lecture.  Since I do encounter this question so frequently, I have learned to focus my answer on a few key factors that increase the likelihood of success.

Angel Green and I often use the phrase “moving the needle” to describe the efforts when implementing SAM in an organization. By “moving the needle”, someone is making incremental changes that produce noticeable results.


Let me share some of these incremental changes with you.

  1. Start at the start.

    There is no better way to build excitement for the power of an iterative design than to kick-off with an active brainstorming and sketching session, which is called the Savvy Start in SAM.

    Sure, we recognize that you might face resistance when asking for the full amount of time required of a Savvy Start (as described in the book), but perhaps you can facilitate a one-hour brainstorming session on a single performance event or objective.  The energy and excitement generated from a robust brainstorming/sketching/prototyping event goes a long way to build credibility within the organization for a new instructional design approach.
  2. Select a project that is reasonable in size to start.

    SAM is a powerful process that can handle even the largest learning and development projects. But, when it’s your first attempt at it in your organization, discretion is the better part of valor.

    In line with this approach, you may opt to pick a small part of bigger project to implement SAM principles and activities. Either way, make sure that you give yourself, and SAM, the best chance for early success.

  3. Find places in your process where you can add SAM principles and practices.

    Often the processes we use to design and develop learning events are a combination of ISD practices and organizational requirements. These processes usually look for the opportunity for approval and review, not for how a deliverable is created – giving plenty of ways to incorporate iterative design.

    For example, instead of spending a lot of time analyzing content, why not have a brief brainstorming, sketching, prototyping meeting with a small number of colleagues? Both of these strategies can help you create a design document, but by the process of challenging your design with others, you are more likely to arrive at a higher quality product.

As I mentioned earlier, answering the question of how to implement SAM deserves a lot more than a single blog post. So, if you’d like to learn more strategies for implementing SAM, please join us at the Allen Interactions User Conference in Chicago on September 22.

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Your Questions Answered: 5 Savvy Tips for a Successful e-Learning Project Kickoff


by , vice president - training and marketing | @rhillsites

Richard Sites

Yesterday, Angel Green and I hosted a webinar titled “5 Savvy Tips for a Successful e-Learning Project Kickoff.” The goal of the webinar was to provide specific actions you can take to improve the start of your projects. If you are interested in checking out the recording of the webinar, you can find it here.

In the webinar, we shared the following tips:

  1. Put down the binder and walk away from information.
  2. Avoid analysis paralysis.
  3. Get the right people in the room.
  4. Be ready to listen.
  5. Brainstorm, sketch, prototype, repeat.

Now, it’s nearly impossible to cover everything in a 45-minute webinar, and of course, we didn’t. There were so many great questions asked by the engaged participants, but unfortunately we couldn’t address all of them. However, as promised during the webinar, we wanted to be sure to provide answers to most of them. So, here goes!


  1. SAMFieldGuide3DBlogCan you define/review the SAM acronym?
    SAM stands for Successive Approximation Model, an iterative instructional design and development process. It's an advanced development approach we’ve used here at Allen Interactions for years that was created by Michael Allen. We have a lot of information on our website and in Leaving ADDIE for SAM and the Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide.

  2. Would you consider virtual meeting being "in the room”?
    Hosting a virtual Savvy Start, the kickoff brainstorming meeting in SAM, can be tricky, but not impossible. If everyone can see the sketches, each other, and the prototypes, then you should be fine to proceed with a virtual meeting. However, make sure you inform the participants in advance of the need for them to stay focused and participate. Otherwise, your meeting will not be as successful as one that is in person.

  3. What kind of talent do you need on your team to pull off a successful brainstorming project kickoff meeting like a Savvy Start?
    At a minimum, you should have an instructional designer (ID) and a prototyper. These can be the same person – and often are. A project manager is important, but if this person is not available, or the Savvy Start is an abbreviated version, the ID and prototyper are the most critical.
  4. So at the beginning of the brainstorming meeting, are the expected behavior changes already identified, or do you work this out in the brainstorm as well?
    Yes and no. There may be SOME behavior changes identified and brainstorming these moments is a great starting point. But during the initial brainstorming, other essential behavior changes typically arise—these also need to be sketched and prototyped to ensure the training addresses all key performance moments.
  5. So how much content should a designer get to know before the Savvy Start?
    Angel and I address this point briefly in the Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide, but you should know enough to be able to participate in the conversation. More importantly, you should know where to find things later versus becoming an expert on the subject.

  6. Do you ever do any other types of needs assessment (surveys, interviews) other than "getting everybody in the same room?"
    You certainly can (and should) conduct other types of assessment to support the design efforts. But, the purpose of the Savvy Start (“getting the right people in the room”) is to proof out the performance moments more effectively. More importantly, the brainstorming and prototyping that occurs in the Savvy Start provides direction on the type of questions you should ask. In other words, the Savvy Start gives you an initial design concept to “proof out” during additional discussions (surveys, focus groups, one-on-ones, etc.).

  7. Just to clarify, you are using SAM to facilitate these projects?
    Yes. Allen Interactions has been executing SAM for over twenty years. It’s not just what we promote, it’s what we do every day.

  8. What do you do if you get people in a room and you have one or two people who are stuck on their belief that the issue is X when in reality it is Y?
    Be happy! Just imagine if you would not have found this out until the end of your project. The time, money, and effort you have saved by identifying this early is immeasurable. Brainstorming the performance event and then sketching and prototyping out the event should provide the opportunity to highlight the real issue (or maybe find out that it really is X and not Y!).

  9. What if you are not a good sketch artist? My concern is that the vision that comes through your fingers onto a whiteboard may be very different than the one in your head.  I wouldn't want the client stakeholder completely misled by the lack of my fine art talent!
    The whole point of sketching is that it is rough and basic, not refined and exact. Everyone can sketch. Don’t worry so much if it’s perfect as long as it conveys the fundamental objects and their relationship to one another. During her upcoming webinar, Design Thinking for Instructional Designers, Angel Green will talk about the power of a sketch, and how to abandon the need for perfection as an instructional designer.

  10. Can you clarify/elaborate how to avoid analysis paralysis? This is a problem my team has frequently.
    The best way to avoid overanalyzing is to laser focus on the specific performance moments. And, when you get to these performance moments, be careful not to spend time thinking through all possible permutations of every potential scenario. In SAM, you continually analyze and evaluate throughout the phases of SAM as the instructional product is developed (from sketching through gold). 

I hope that the answers to these questions provide some insight into the benefits of being savvy with the way you start your projects. By avoiding excessive information early, moving past analysis, gathering the right people together, listening and brainstorming, and sketching and prototyping, hopefully you can get your learning and development projects off on the right foot.

For more on effective design techniques, join Angel Green for her upcoming webinar on Thursday, June 26, Design Thinking for the Instructional Designer. In this webinar, Angel will address ways to ensure that your projects include good design and how to effectively work with your team to build better learning events.

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5 Savvy Tips for a Successful e-Learning Project Kickoff



Date: Wednesday, May 28th
Time: 1:00 - 1:45 PM Central Time
Can't Attend? We will send you a recording and materials!

Register for this complimentary webinar! 

  • When you start a new e-learning project, is it exciting? Is it fun?

  • Do you walk away with a shared vision of success among the project team members?

  • Or, like many people do you feel apprehensive about project schedules, overwhelmed by content, and isolated—stuck on an island alone with your computer?

We believe project kickoffs are the most vital way to ensure a successful project.

We believe this so much that we have a name for our project kickoff meetings—the SAVVY Start! Join Richard Sites and Angel Green, authors of the Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide, in a complimentary webinar in which they will share their five savvy tips for kicking off a successful e-learning project.

In this webinar, you'll learn real strategies you can implement to make your e-learning project kickoffs fun, exciting, engaging, and a real team-building experience.

Meet the Presenters!

Angel Green - senior instructional strategist


Angel Green
senior instructional strategist
Follow Angel on Twitter ▶ 



Richard Sites, vice president - training and marketing

Richard Sites
vice president - training & marketing
Follow Richard on Twitter ▶



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Iterations: Live from ASTD ICE 2014!


Richard Sites and Angel Green are live from ASTD ICE 2014! Join them to hear more about our exciting week!

More from Allen Interactions!

The Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide Debuts at ASTD ICE!


The Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide, written by Richard Sites and Angel Green, made its official debut at ASTD's International Conference & Exposition in Washington, D.C., May 2-7!

This companion to Michael Allen's 2012 bestseller, Leaving ADDIE for SAM, provides the job aids, tools, and templates you need to put the SAM methodology in motion and take your ISD practice to new heights.

To learn more about the Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide, download the complimentary foreword written by Michael Allen and the preface!

 Leaving ADDIE for SAM Richard Sites Angel Green


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5 Reasons Why My Heart Belongs to SAM!


by Ann Iverson, instructional designer


Spring is here and love is in the air. So it’s the perfect time to make a relationship confession: My heart belongs to SAM*. There! I’ve said it, and I’m glad it’s finally out in the open!

As an instructional designer with close to 20 years of experience in the learning industry, I’ve seen a lot of changes. Technological, social, and cultural advances have helped e-learning evolve from simple “page turners” to highly interactive, engaging experiences. Through it all, a few models and systems prevailed. One of those is the ADDIE* process, which I clung to dearly for most of my career.

ADDIE helped me through many tight spots early on when I had nowhere else to turn. Those five steps carried me through client conversations when stakeholders exclaimed, “We don’t have time for a needs analysis!” or “We don’t have budget to evaluate!” I could always count on ADDIE to help me provide the rationale I needed for the essential steps in developing the right learning solutions.

My Heart Belongs to SAM | Photo by Brittany Laeger

So when Dr. Allen introduced me to SAM, I was cautious at first. I asked around, “What does SAM have that ADDIE doesn’t?” Turns out, when it came to ADDIE, I was in denial. In my heart, I knew something was missing, but I wasn’t ready to let go. Sure, I’d been burned in the past when stakeholders provided valuable feedback just a little too late according to the project timeline. ADDIE was comfortable, but SAM was becoming hard to ignore, especially after I heard so many great things. It wasn’t long before I gave SAM a try and soon realized that it was a great fit for me. SAM and I have been going strong since then, and here are a few reasons why:

SAM is engaging and fun.

ADDIE’s linear process can feel a bit limiting and claustrophobic. Who wants to be told you can’t have an idea because the window for that is now closed? And moving the project along in an assembly-line fashion doesn’t allow for exploration and fun. Rather than pulling the client along to project completion, SAM creates space that allows for partnership, creativity, and play.

SAM encourages open conversation.

Instead of holding ideas and input for a single, large-scale review, SAM allows stakeholders to provide frequent feedback in small chunks allowing for revisions when they cost the least. Brain bursts can’t be scheduled! SAM welcomes fresh ideas as they come along and keeps the communication flowing in an open, honest way.

SAM respects relationships.

SAM’s iterative process respects the client relationship. Rather than setting one party up as the “Ultimate Expert” who drives the project, the iterative process allows everyone to collaborate and offer revisions. Each member of the team is a contributor to the final product, which results in more effective decisions and solutions overall.

SAM brings out the best in people.

Regardless of your role on a project – learning expert, subject matter enthusiast, project manager, job supervisor, front-line worker, etc., your voice matters! You are part of a high-performing team that demands your participation. Everyone on the team is valued, and their strengths and energy are leveraged to create high-quality learning solutions.

SAM is simple.

SAM is simple and flexible so that anyone creating great e-learning can apply it in their own work. SAM allows for transparency, so stakeholders get a vision of the solution early in the process and can provide feedback right away. This input is what makes learning projects with SAM so successful.

So now you can see why I’m so drawn to SAM! ADDIE and I had a great thing going while it lasted, but I’ve moved on. I’m not saying you should move on too, after all, relationships are complicated, but I know I’m having a lot more fun with SAM. The choice is yours!

*SAM stands for Successive Approximation Model, an agile development model we use here at Allen Interactions to ensure learning, retention, and business impact are achieved for organizations. Our approach with SAM involves making repeated iterations to move closer to the final product with each milestone. 

*ADDIE is a generic term for a five-phase instructional design model. Each step has an outcome that feeds into the next step in the sequence. 

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ASTD 2014 - Free Expo Passes, SAM, ZebraZapps & More!



At ASTD 2014, join more than 9,000 of your learning colleagues from around the globe in Washington, D.C., May 4 - 7, 2014, to share best practices and insights. You'll learn current and future trends, and find out how to apply them on the job to get results. You'll learn from world-renowned thought leaders, and industry luminaries. ASTD 2014 will provide the tools and resources necessary to move you and your organization forward. Learn More & Register ▶

More details on what we have happening at ASTD ICE are below! We hope to see you there!

Free Expo Passes:

If you are in the area and want to drop by and check out the Expo Hall, it’s complimentary―register here! Use invitation code: 1013. 

And don't forget to visit us at Booth 1101 where you can enter to win a free seat in an upcoming ASTD Leaving ADDIE for SAM Mega Workshop and talk to the co-authors of the soon-to-be-released Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide which will be available at the show―pre-order it now!

Leaving ADDIE for SAM

Speaking Events: 

Get the full scoop and applicable hands-on experience with SAM at the two-day workshop. 

Then, hear about the 5 Advantages of SAM over ADDIE from Michael Allen, creator of SAM―The Successive Approximation Model.

Next, learn why it's time we Get Serious About e-Learning at the panel by Michael Allen, Julie Dirksen, and Clark Quinn.

Finally, discover ZebraZapps' authoring prowess for creating serious games! 

ASTD Leaving ADDIE for SAM Mega Workshop
Friday, May 2 - Saturday, May 3 | 9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Learn More & Register ▶

ASTD Advanced e-Learning Instructional Design Certificate Program
Friday, May 2 - Saturday, May 3 | 8:30 am - 4:30 pm
Learn More & Register ▶

5 Advantages of SAM over ADDIE
Monday, May 5 | 3:00 - 4:15 pm
Speaker: Michael Allen, chairman & CEO
Learn More ▶

Getting Serious About e-Learning
Tuesday, May 6 | 4:00 - 5:00 pm
Speakers: Michael Allen, Julie Dirksen, Clark Quinn
Learn More ▶

Discover How to Build Serious e-Learning Games with ZebraZapps
Wednesday, May 7 | 10:45 am - 12:00 pm
Speaker: Steve Lee, co-founder
Learn More ▶

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Iterative e-Learning Development: SAM Uncovered


By , senior instructional strategist | @LearnerAdvocate
Angel Green senior instructional strategist


Perhaps you’ve heard the hype around SAM. Maybe you’ve even read Leaving ADDIE for SAM by Michael Allen and Richard Sites. But, you wonderis it really that different than ADDIE?

Do you have questions about SAM?

Successive Approximation Model (SAM)

  • Are you curious about the SAVVY Start (and what SAVVY even means)? 
  • Do you wonder how it is possible that an instructional process can improve the quality of your learning events?  
  • Is it unclear to you what prototypes look like? 
  • Do you have questions on how SMEs are used in SAM?  
  • Is there confusion in your mind between an iteration and a revision? 
  • Can your required signoffs and approvals be handled in SAM?
  • Do you deliver instructor-led training and want to move to SAM but question if SAM is a fit for ILT?

If any of these questions sound familiar, or you have questions of your own, join Richard Sites and me for our upcoming ASTD Webinar on Friday, April 11th, See SAM in Action.

In this free one-hour webinar, Richard and I will walk you through the SAM process from beginning to end and will:

  • Describe the Savvy Start
  • Show prototypes
  • Explain the role of the SME
  • Uncover how content is developed in SAM
  • Discuss the benefits of iterating toward a final product
We’ll jam pack this hour with our most frequently asked SAM questions and allow attendees the opportunity to ask us questions.

The webinar will be recorded, so even if you can’t attend this Friday, April 11th, be sure to register to receive access to the recording!

Register Here ▶

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See SAM In Action & 6 Steps To Improved e-Learning Activities



See SAM In Action
Friday, April 11, 2-3 pm Eastern
Sponsored by ASTD
Cost: Free


This webcast will demonstrate the techniques vital to creating successful e-learning programs and will provide participants with the skills to use advanced design techniques to create e-learning programs that drive productivity. You will learn effective ways to design learning events that go far beyond the transmission of information to achieve behavior change and targeted performance levels.

Presented by: 

Angel Green - senior instructional strategist

Angel Green
senior instructional strategist | @LearnerAdvocate
Co-author of the Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide 



Richard Sites, vice president - training and marketing

Richard Sitesvice president - training and marketing | @rhillsites
Co-author of Leaving ADDIE for SAM and the Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide 



Actions Speak Louder Than Words: 6 Steps to Improved e-Learning Activities
Thursday, April 24, 1-2 pm Eastern
Sponsored by Training Magazine
Cost: Free 


There’s much frustration with the limited range of interactivity found in e-learning programs. Arbitrary multiple-choice and true-and-false questions, even when masquerading under flashy game-like interfaces, fail to engage learners’ attention. Worse yet, they usually fail to teach. Too often designers feel bound by the limits of actions available to the learner—senseless button clicking, random dragging, confusing entries. But, even working within the constraints of low-level authoring tools, it is possible to design eLearning activities that will engage, motivate, and captivate the learner’s imagination and enhance post-training performance.

Edwards will present six simple and easily achievable transformations to make your elearning interactions more impactful. 

Presented by:

 Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist

Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist | @ethanaedwards





Mindful e-Learning Design


by Ann Iverson, instructional designer


“When the mind is trained to be fully attentive, even in the midst of chaos, we have the space to make more wise and conscious choices.”

-Janice Marturano 

It was in the year 2000 when I reached a point in my career and personal life that I needed an intervention. I was stressed out, distracted and running in circles. Managing a business and two small children, I felt like a plate spinner at the circus. I did a fine job of managing multiple priorities, but life became overwhelming. I functioned continually in a reactive mode, paying only partial attention to clients, friends, and family. After a lengthy stint at the circus, I decided to visit my physician who, I thought, would prescribe a magic pill that could help me be the superwoman I needed to live an extraordinary life. Much to my displeasure, she responded to my plea with a prescription for a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class―eight weeks of learning how to pause and be present with everything around me. What? I felt cheated! Little did I know in that first session how much MBSR would transform me, my life, and my relationships.

Mindfule LearningDesign

Mindfulness has become more mainstream since then. People bring mindfulness to their everyday experiences, reporting significant improvements in innovation, awareness, communication, and even their eating habits. Scientific research now shows that mindfulness enhances mental health and improves performance in many fields of endeavor.

I recently read Finding the Space to Lead by Janice Marturano. As a vice president at General Mills, Janice discovered that mindfulness training taught her to find mental and emotional space in her life. She founded the Institute for Mindful Leadership in 2010, and now trains business leaders and employees from around the world. Janice states, “Mindfulness is a methodology that trains a capacity of your mind that generally receives little or no training.” She believes mindfulness training can strengthen four leadership fundamentals – focus, clarity, creativity, and compassion.

I believe these four fundamentals are also essential to the practice of e-learning design. For example, at Allen Interactions, we kick off our projects with a Savvy Start gathering, where our team meets with stakeholders to capture information that is essential to making good design decisions. Let’s take a look at how the four fundamentals can be applied at the Savvy Start:


At the Savvy Start, instructional designers gather information through an in-depth discussion that involves asking the right questions and listening with intention to stakeholder responses. This exchange usually means many moments of ambiguity, of not knowing the “answer” for a while. Mindfulness can help instructional designers remain focused in that space, helping them see clearly and respond to new ideas that surface without judgment or conditioned reactions.


During the Savvy Start, instructional designers review key background information and generate initial e-learning design ideas with stakeholders. During this process, it’s tempting to make assumptions about what the client needs or the types of interactions that best suit the project. Mindfulness helps instructional designers pause to become aware if they’re creating a bias for action, leading stakeholders down a path rather than walking beside them. 


The Savvy Start is all about creativity, which often means applying proven methods in new and unique ways. Have you ever noticed that sometimes the most creative ideas appear when you step away from a task? It’s about creating space to let your mind come up with an innovative solution. Since you can’t step away from the Savvy Start, mindfulness can help find space in the constant stream of thoughts and ideas.


The goal of the Savvy Start is to create an e-learning solution that promotes real performance change. Inspiring that change requires compassion because any type of change can cause anxiety and fear in learners. We naturally want to stay with what we know, even when it doesn’t work that well. Learners may feel invalidated with new performance expectations—that everything they’ve been doing before is wrong. Instructional designers can step in the learners’ shoes, connecting to their experience in a compassionate way, asking, “Is this a course I would like to experience?” and “How would I feel if I was taking this course?”

Mindfulness won’t remove the circus from your life, but it may help you find more balance as you walk the tightrope.

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