Successive Approximation Model (SAM) - Pros, Cons and How to Implement it in Education

Successive Approximation Model

The SAM model stands for successive approximation model. It is a method of development that's a preferred instructional design methodology for rapid development.  
 The word "approximation" in the model is precisely what the first prototype is likely to be an approximation of the final cut.

This model is more of an instructional design method that utilizes small and quick steps to the goal, allowing for a swift pivot if required that uses a continuous iterative design process throughout the lifecycle of development instead of the "one step at a time in three-quarter time" model. The model relies on tight timelines and quick turnaround as a catalyst for fast and furious design.

With the SAM model, it is okay to trip and make mistakes, as long as it results in fast turnovers and a better overall result. As one of its advantages, SAM-based design calls for more collaboration as creators are less dedicated to their solution and more dedicated to finding the right solution. If an option does not work, it does not matter: try something else.   However, the Successive Approximation Model (SAM) is a simplified version of the ADDIE Model is a simplified version of the ADDIE model explicitly designed to provide feedback and construct working models earlier in the process.

Dr. Michael Allen, Allen Interactions, developed the SAM model. The model uses a recursive rather than linear process for course development. The simplest SAM model comprises three parts: Preparation, Iterative Design, and Iterative Development. The keyword here is iterative, which is the basis of this model and indicates that each step should be reviewed repeatedly. 

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What is the difference between the SAM model and the ADDIE model? 

The SAM model

The Successive Approximation Model (SAM) is an agile development model. By "agile" in this case, we mean multiple steps happen simultaneously. The SAM procedure is iterative. Each stage of development is completed at least three times, and each cycle should be closer to the ideal than the latter.

During the development process, the model's iterations make room for evaluations and changes to the project as needed. The model also strongly encourages collaboration between the instructional designers and the customers at each step.

While all of this collaboration may slow things down, it ensures that the customer knows exactly what is going on throughout the process. If designers find something not quite right, instantaneous feedback means they can quickly change course.

The ADDIE Model

Florida State University developed the ADDIE model for Instructional Systems Design (ISD) in 1975 to provide a framework for creating training for the US Army. ADDIE is an acronym for the five stages of its design approach.

They are:

  • Analysis
  • Design
  • Development
  • Implementation
  • Evaluation

The ADDIE methodology was developed using a linear model that shows that a phase should be completed and refined before moving on to the next phase.

The model has been streamlined and fine-tuned several times between its creation and the present.

It has stood the test of time to remain one of educational designers' most widely used and known ISD.

The model has been popular since the 1970s because Instructional designers know that they will finish with a usable product when they use the ADDIE methodology to create learning and training materials.

However, since the ADDIE model is linear and requires each step to be reviewed before moving forward, it can be slow and cumbersome. Another setback is that it can be difficult, or even impossible, to backtrack. If something goes wrong, it can mean that a complete restart is necessary.

How can the SAM model be implemented in education?

Since the SAM model has different phases: the preparation phase, Iterative Design Phase and Iterative Development Phase. These phases can be efficiently used in education to design a course. To help you design the course better, here is an elaboration of what the phases do and how you can use them for course designing.  

Preparation Phase

The SAM model begins with "the Preparation phase." The phase begins with gathering all necessary information and context for the project. The content and scope of this phase are likely to vary greatly depending on the project or course.

The hallmark of the end of the first phase of this model is the "Savvy Start", which encourages brainstorming, sketching, and prototyping. According to the course, it involves as many interested parties as required to develop the material, such as colleagues, advisors, and students. This course preparation phase is used to collect background information on the learners. It is a rapid phase that usually involves examining the strengths and weaknesses of the learners, learning the inherent prior knowledge and establishing the overall goals of the project.

The "SAVY start" is a session where course designers can spin design ideas. Assembled from various design ideas, rough prototypes are developed that lack interactivity. Typically, these prototypes are rough sketches and images that serve as the backbone for other design sessions after the SAVY starts.

For this phase, the team must develop potential concepts for each content area. This phase requires the team should come away with potential designs for each content area.

Iterative Design Phase

The next phase, the iterative design phase, is when the project moves into this phase, the team generally becomes smaller and is narrowed down to Subject Matter Experts and project designers/developers. The iterative design phase includes project planning and incremental design. This phase should always take place after the "start of the SAVY" and should consist of establishing project timelines, budgets (time and money) and assigning a task to be accomplished.

For example, some team members may be responsible for writing scripts, designing the education plan, while others are responsible for developing training materials.

Once the course/project planning is complete, the team may proceed with an additional design. This is when project design decisions are made, and teaching elements become more specific and tangible. The additional design phase will use the initial design decisions made at the "SAVY start" and will be iterated until an agreed-upon design is obtained. The design team should strive to create three potential designs; so the team does not become fixated on one design void of necessary instructional components. It allows the team to be creative and think beyond evident design solutions. This may be not easy in the first instance, but it will improve your overall design in the end.

Iterative Development Phase

After the designers agree upon the design, the course/project moves into a constant development, implementation, and evaluation loop. It is essential within this phase to develop smaller chunks of the completed project to make sure you always have something usable for end-users to provide feedback on.

Additional Phases

Alpha, Beta, Gold Release

The Alpha step is probably the first version of an entire project. This step includes all course elements that can be used from beginning to end. It involves interactions between learners through media and formative feedback loops. No major course flaws should be discovered at this stage, but it is still common for minor review opportunities to occur.

The beta and gold stages are the last components of SAM. Beta is a modified version of alpha based on comments and final review.

The beta version is often the gold version of the project.

The beta is a final opportunity to review and correct the draft based on the comments from the alpha phase. Once the final corrections have been made, the project moves to the gold version and is ready to be fully implemented.

In conclusion, SAM enables designers to test their courses early and often and be agile to reviews based on user feedback. This constant feedback loop is a catalyst for a more coherent and flexible project in response to the frequent influx of learning outcomes.

What are the Pros of the SAM model?

Flexibility and repeated review

The platform is very flexible and allows for repeated reviewing, which leaves many opportunities to communicate any changes or feedback.  

Save Time and Money

As the model allows for changes in real quick, it needs to be made to the training, or external changes, like budget or schedule, are incorporated very fast. For this reason, SAM can save time and money. 

Great for assessments

It allows for constant re-evaluation and assessment of materials. 

Rapid feedback and development

Since the model elicits feedback from all interested parties, it helps design and develop the course well and rapidly. 

Cons of SAM Model 

Repetitive in nature

In the SAM model, steps are repeated frequently, and it may be not easy when your environment does not encourage rapid feedback or flexible processes.  

May waste time and resources

Access reviews in the cycle can waste time and resources, especially if the project does not require that level of review. 


The model can be time-consuming and clunky as it takes time due to repeated reviewing. 

Lack of Unity

It can lack cohesion due to the inclusion of so many different voices.

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About the Author
Author: Saniya Khan
Saniya Khan I am Saniya Khan, Copy-Editor at EdTechReview - India’s leading edtech media. As a part of the group, my aim is to spread awareness on the growing edtech market by guiding all educational stakeholders on latest and quality news, information and resources. A voraciously curious writer with a dedication to excellence creates interesting yet informational pieces, playing with words since 2016.

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