SAM Model for Online Courses

The Successive Approximation Model (SAM) is an innovative approach to instructional design, particularly in online learning. Developed by Allen Interactions, SAM offers a more agile alternative to traditional models like ADDIE, enabling designers to create practical, engaging learning experiences in a streamlined manner. The model addresses common instructional design challenges such as meeting timelines, staying on budget, and collaborating with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) through an iterative process.

SAM focuses on a few critical steps repeated as often as necessary to achieve optimal learning outcomes. This flexible and iterative design process allows instructional designers to adapt and adjust their courses quickly as they gather feedback and insights from learners and SMEs. By using SAM, online course creators can save time and resources and deliver high-quality, impactful learning experiences for their target audience.

As online learning continues to grow in popularity, educators and organizations can significantly benefit from incorporating the SAM model into their instructional design practices. The SAM model consists of a preparation phase in which the instructional design team gathers resources and researches the needs of the learners. Then, the team moves through a series of iterative design and development steps to create a compelling and engaging online course.

The SAM Model can be used for online learning

SAM Model Overview

Successive Approximation Model

The Successive Approximation Model, or SAM, is an agile and iterative approach to instructional design that aims to enhance the online learning experience. SAM follows a simplified structure that addresses performance needs through iterations or repeated small steps rather than perfectly executed giant steps. SAM was developed as a variation of the more traditional ADDIE model, which dates back to the 1970s and comprises five stages: analyze, design, develop, implement, and evaluate.

Key Components

SAM includes two levels of implementation: SAM1, which is a basic approach, and SAM2, a comprehensive system that can be scaled to suit your needs. Both models emphasize iterative cycles throughout the course creation, allowing for continuous analysis, refinement, and improvement of learning content. In addition to the more agile development approach, SAM incorporates the following main concepts:

  1. Learning is dynamic and nonlinear, which requires adaptability in instructional design methods.
  2. Boring instruction can be costly, ineffective, and damaging, so the need for engaging and interactive learning experiences is essential.

The SAM model aims to contribute to more impactful and adaptable online learning courses and materials by using iterative cycles and flexibly responding to learners’ needs. By considering the fluidity and adaptability of the learning process, the SAM model can provide improved instructional design compared to traditional approaches.

Implementing SAM in Online Learning

Instructional Design Process

The Successive Approximation Model is an agile instructional design model first described by Michael Allen in 2012. It focuses on creating meaningful, memorable, and motivational learning experiences by breaking down the design and development process into three main steps: evaluate, design, and develop. When implementing SAM in online learning, it is crucial to follow the process and customize it according to the project’s specific needs.

  1. Evaluation: In this phase, instructional designers gather relevant data on learning requirements, desired goals, and required training material. It’s essential to have a clear understanding of the intended learners’ characteristics and their performance objectives.
  2. Design: After evaluating and setting the goals, designers develop prototypes or conceptual designs and establish the learning path. They should consider the learning environment, instructional strategies, and the right mix of media elements that support the learning objectives.
  3. Development: This phase includes creating and implementing the learning materials based on the design specifications. Iterative feedback and adjustments are made throughout the development process to ensure the quality and effectiveness of the learning experience.

Collaboration and Feedback

A critical aspect of implementing SAM in online learning is fostering collaboration and continuous feedback among all stakeholders. This iterative approach helps identify potential issues early in the design process and allows for quick adjustments, improving the overall quality of the learning experience.

  • Stakeholder collaboration: Involve subject matter experts, project managers, and other relevant stakeholders in the evaluation, design, and development phases. This ensures the learning experience aligns with performance objectives and organizational requirements.
  • Feedback loops: Encourage regular feedback from learners, SMEs, or project team members throughout the design and development process. This helps identify areas that need improvement, enabling designers to fine-tune the learning experience.
  • Agility: Using an agile approach, instructional designers can make iterative adjustments during the design and development stages, resulting in a more efficient process and a higher-quality final product.

Implementing SAM in online learning is a dynamic and iterative process that considers evaluation, design, and development stages, collaboration, and stakeholder feedback. By following this approach, instructional designers can create effective and engaging learning experiences that meet the intended audience’s needs.

Benefits of SAM for Online Learning


One of the main advantages of the SAM model in online learning is its flexibility. This model allows instructional designers and course creators to quickly change and adapt their courses based on ongoing feedback and real-world requirements. The iterative approach of SAM helps in using prototypes to secure stakeholder buy-in quickly and makes it possible to pivot when course requirements change.


The SAM model emphasizes speed in course development, making it an efficient way to design and build online training materials. Instead of spending excessive time on planning, SAM allows for rapid iterations and course improvements, ensuring that the learning experience is continually refined and optimized. This lean approach reduces development time, thus delivering the desired learning outcomes faster and with fewer delays.

Continuous Improvement

Another significant benefit of SAM for online learning lies in its focus on continuous improvement. As course creators and instructional designers iterate through the model’s phases, they can consistently assess feedback, analyze results, and make essential revisions to course content. This continuous evaluation process allows for ongoing improvements in user experience and the overall effectiveness of the online course, ensuring that the learning materials are current and relevant to learners’ needs.

Examples of SAM

One case study involves using SAM to design a gamified online course. The course aimed to teach participants how to create engaging learning experiences by leveraging gamification principles. The course developers used SAM to identify user needs, set learning goals, create prototypes, and conduct evaluations as part of the iterative design process. This approach led to an interactive, learner-centred course that effectively delivered the intended learning outcomes.

Another example is the application of the SAM model to develop a professional development course for educators. The purpose of this course was to provide teaching professionals with the tools and strategies needed to create compelling online learning experiences for their students. Following the SAM model’s iterative design and development process, the course developers thoroughly analyzed the target audience, established learning objectives, designed instructional components, and refined the course through various iterations. The result was a comprehensive, well-structured, and flexible course that met the needs of different users.

A third example comes from the corporate training sector, where SAM was used to develop a series of compliance training modules for a multinational organization. The project aimed to create interactive and user-friendly modules addressing various compliance topics while maintaining a consistent design across the different modules. By leveraging the SAM model, the training team and subject matter experts collaborated closely, using the iterative design process to design, prototype, and evaluate their online training materials. The final outcome was a set of highly engaging, effective, and accessible compliance training modules aligned with the organization’s goals and requirements.

These case studies and examples demonstrate how the SAM model can be applied in various online learning contexts to achieve effective instructional design. SAM enables the development of flexible, engaging, and learner-centred courses that meet diverse learning needs and goals through its unique iterative process and close collaboration among stakeholders. The SAM model provides a valuable option for designers seeking to create online learning experiences that benefit from rapid development, user feedback, and iterative refinement. By employing this dynamic model, instructional designers can increase their eLearning courses’ overall effectiveness and quality.

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