TI-ADDIE: A Trauma-Informed Model of Instructional Design

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Adjusting the ADDIE model of instructional design specifically to accommodate trauma offers an opportunity to address the collective challenges that designers, instructors, and learners have faced during the current learning moment.

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Credit: Harinnita Detta / Shutterstock.com © 2023

"When the physical threat of coronavirus subsides, as it surely will, we must address the impact to our mental health." —Luciana Berger in The New Statesman, April 9, 2020

There are plenty of instructional design (ID) models out there in the world.Footnote1 Why would we need another? The world has shifted significantly. Learning and the design of learning experiences have also shifted as a result of the twin crises of COVID-19 and racism, both of which intensified in 2020. These crises have caused significant trauma across the globe and within U.S. culture—trauma for students, for parents, for instructors, for leaders, and for designers. In the winter of 2023, in response to these new circumstances, we undertook a special issue of the Journal of Applied Instructional Design (JAID), a publication of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology.Footnote2 This special issue focused on trauma-informed pedagogy, and at its conclusion, we called for a trauma-informed instructional design model. We now put forward an expansion, an augmentation, of a traditional ADDIE model for instructional design. This new model embeds the intentionalities of trauma-informed design (see figure 1).

Figure 1. Trauma-Informed ADDIE Model
A graphic showing the 7 elements of the Trauma-Informed ADDIE Model: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation, Recursion, and Care

We started with the ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation) model. This model originated out of Florida State University in the 1970s and was intended for design within military contexts.Footnote3 Many other models exist, including industry standards such as The Systemic Design of Instruction, by Walter Dick and Lou Carey, as well as specialized models such as the work of Nadda Dabbagh, Rose M. Marra, and Jane L. Howland, which focuses on online learning, and that of William Rothwell and H.C. Kazanas, intended for corporate training.Footnote4 However, we find that because the basic ADDIE model is simple, familiar, and similar to the scientific method, many instructors, designers, and even some learners feel comfortable with this model. In our expanded model, we add one step—namely, recursion—because we recognize that the ADDIE model is insufficient in that it seems to have a beginning (analysis) and an end (evaluation). Designers know, however, that their processes are much more recursive, continuously improving, using rapid prototyping and other successive approximations to move toward better and better designs. This recursion is also a way to create a "gentle" design model that forgives errors as we journey toward something that is closer to right rather than achieving right in a single loop. 

When we add a trauma-informed lens to the ADDIE base model, including a number of specific intentionalities across the various stages of ADDIE, we can create a variety of different approaches. Like a soup base that changes as different spices, proteins, pastas, and vegetables are added, this model is an augmentation of the original ADDIE approach. We have been calling this a Trauma-Informed ADDIE model, TI-ADDIE--or "tidy" for short. In general, the model asks designers to explicitly consider the importance of Care, including collaboration, community, and conversation. These are critical elements of any trauma-informed model. As such, we put care in the middle of this model. Where traditional approaches via ADDIE are highly analytic, perhaps even seen as pseudo-scientific, here we are asking for a more holistic understanding of the design process. This model focuses not on the narrow goal of achievement but rather on the larger goal of human flourishing through collaboration, conversation, and care.Footnote5 The model also asks the designer to consider ways to prevent stress and isolation for learners. Diverse responses to asynchronous learning resources offer a good example of this difficult balance. A course that includes asynchronous videos, for example, might encourage many students to be less stressed about how their time will be spent. They know the precise amount of time the asynch will take, and they can do the work at their leisure, at a time convenient to them. However, for someone who has been impacted by trauma—for example, a forced and unsuccessful online learning experience—the use of this kind of asynchronous resource could create additional stress and, more importantly, increase their feelings of isolation, which could trigger more trauma and learning loss for them.

The idea here is that the ADDIE model, centered on care as shown in figure 1, must attend to some overall considerations as well as to specific considerations during each of the ADDIE phases to create instruction that is sensitive to trauma— that is, a trauma-informed ID model. We will explore each step in the ADDIE model and explain these special considerations.

The model should emphasize collaboration and conversation among administration, faculty, staff, learners, and other stakeholders. It should also strive to see issues in new ways, using different language sets as well as viewing issues through less bounded lenses—something that may seem unsustainable or difficult to accomplish. This model recognizes the challenges associated with this approach.


The analysis process must be focused on the needs of any organization. Broad needs assessments have always been a distinguishing factor between strong designs and workshops or classes that are hastily put together. A deep understanding of the organization, its culture, its context, its learners, and the gap that is creating the need for the learning experience in the first place is essential to a strong design. It is the foundation. There is a good deal of well-known work across the needs assessment field.Footnote6 A careful analysis can lend credibility to designs, but a slavish devotion to an analytic framework can also contribute to a misunderstanding of the process as overly deterministic, scientific, or even pseudo-scientific.

Keeping these issues in mind, those with an interest in trauma-informed design must understand the specific populations for which designs are made in relation to trauma. There are some populations that might be expected to experience significant amounts of trauma—such as first responders, military service members, or healthcare workers serving during a pandemic. Doing a basic trauma survey to better understand the intersectionality of trauma and learning for any ID project is an important first step in augmenting the traditional ADDIE model toward a trauma-informed model.Footnote7 While needs analysis has traditionally been concerned with content scoping and setting learning goals, the trauma-informed ID model expands the focus toward emotional needs, belongingness, and handling the anticipated trauma barriers that lie within learning environments and affect learning outcomes. In this way, the trauma-informed ID model is more focused on people and is also relatively aligned with human centered design.Footnote8 As we think specifically about the post-pandemic context of learning, we have to also be humanity-centered and carefully consider the extent to which the pandemic may have created additional trauma or burnout, particularly among frontline workers, faculty, students, healthcare workers, the immunocompromised, and other vulnerable populations. 


The design process, of course, still follows some basic rules, principles, and tenets. However, trauma-informed design relies on additional guiding principles, such as attending to resilience, belongingness, empowerment, agency, decreasing stressors, and increasing cognitive supports. What does it mean to attend to these issues with an ethic of care at the center? First, designers must understand what these constructs mean, how they translate to design principles, and how they can be integrated into the learning moment through design. These are both design and development considerations. Additionally, as Nate Turcotte, Kea McElfresh, and Melissa Rodriguez-Meehan point out in their case study of "ungrading," the potential uses of different forms of assessment, particularly those that may decrease stress and increase human flourishing, should be considered during the design, development, and evaluation phases.Footnote9 Designs must ensure that learning communities are established. Specific steps should be taken to provide for group belonging and opportunities to grow community within the learning environment. Finally, belongingness is directly related to isolation, and both must be understood and addressed by the designer. Some may assert that these are universal principles of good design and should be utilized for any instructional design solution. However, the TI-ADDIE model explicitly calls designers to attend to these issues, given the necessity of these considerations in a trauma-laden environment.


Development of materials, approaches, and tool use are critical across all ID models when it comes to the development stage of instructional design. In the case of our trauma-informed ID model, the articles presented in our JAID special issue indicate that a few specific approaches could be promising opportunities for trauma-informed development. During the development phase, instructional designers should strongly consider the use of mentoring and case-based approaches specifically.Footnote10


In a TI-ADDIE model, tool use changes to value care. Tools are embedded in the learning environment with the intent of reducing barriers to learning. We need to be mindful of the different types of learning barriers. There are trauma-exposure barriers that affect the ability to focus and to organize and process information. There are also barriers that manifest when the focus on outcomes overrides cognitive support, pacing, or understanding of the learner experience. Such conditions can trigger trauma responses. To mitigate these barriers, designers should thoughtfully embed tools from a trauma-informed lens. Traditional tool use is primarily concerned with things like cognitive load, recall, and so forth. While these considerations remain important, an approach that focuses on broader understandings of care, heart, and emotion are needed for a trauma-informed ID model. What does this mean? Research has demonstrated the importance of a caring human being to the learning moment.Footnote11

Recognizing the primacy of relationships and implementing a learning design that values in-person contact and relationship building in the learner's zone of proximal development is important for trauma-informed design.Footnote12 While all other considerations for implementation (such as having a backup plan and thinking about technology use) remain in place, implementation in a TI-ADDIE model will also consider that the population may react to different stimuli differently. Care should be taken to employ trigger warnings, and instructors should consider carefully how different experiences, activities, approaches, and discussions might make learners feel awkward or uncomfortable or could create post-traumatic stress.

While care should be taken in the use of online approaches, they do not have to be eliminated for lack of caring human contact. With advancements in technology, online and distance options will become increasingly realistic and can accommodate caring approaches. However, asynchronous or automated approaches to instruction, while efficient, would likely be out of alignment with a TI-ADDIE model.


Within evaluation are three broad categories of consideration. Designers must look at assessment of student learning, as well as formative and summative evaluation of the instruction. Although all three are closely linked—the assessment of student learning is typically a data point that serves both summative and formative evaluation—for us, these are three different tasks. Where student learning assessment is concerned, the TI-ADDIE model considers appropriate uses of stress-reducing approaches for determining students' achievement. These methods—such as ungrading, peer reviews, and open-ended discussions–are not based on memorization or basic recall. This is not to suggest that only higher levels of Bloom's taxonomy can be evaluated within a trauma-informed model but, rather, that too much focus on high-stakes traditional testing might be out of alignment with a trauma-informed ID model.

This is a direct collision between traditional and trauma-informed approaches. Designers and instructors who have used traditional learning assessment will tend to use older models, focusing on the importance of content coverage and making sure students have "mastered" the material they're given in the instructional moment. Those who recognize the difficulties of learning during a traumatized moment (such as a pandemic or a distressing major life event) will argue, instead, that mastery of the content is useless if learners are incapable of applying what they've learned because they are too traumatized by external factors to focus so narrowly on learning objectives. Rather, evaluation should accommodate the learning moment to the emotions that learners are experiencing. We believe the absence of this type of accommodation accounts for a significant part of the learning losses that have come to light after the pandemic.Footnote13 These losses do not result from mere laziness on the part of learners or from home environment distractions experienced during the lockdown. Nor are these losses the result of a lack of social connection with others—though that clearly plays a significant role. Rather, the combined trauma itself causes the learner to see the learning as absurd and therefore far lower on the hierarchy of need. As Rome is burning, they might ask, you are asking me to memorize parts of speech or the periodic table? By accounting for this, assessment becomes a way to understand learner trauma and to determine what has been learned within the trauma-infused learning moment. Models such as ungrading, credit for reflection, and personal mental health awareness, in addition to a broader focus on recovery and trauma resilience within the learner assessment model, are necessary parts of a trauma-informed ID model.

Formative evaluation is an opportunity for designers and instructors to better understand the impact of trauma on their designs and to rectify instructional areas that are "tone deaf" to the needs of traumatized learners. Whether designers are working with a traditionally traumatized population, such as first responders, or in a community temporarily traumatized by a pandemic or other shared experience (like war), formative evaluation offers a chance to see where the instruction is working and where it is not working to serve traumatized learners. The tools for formative evaluation remain essentially the same, but additional questions around belongingness, resilience, and emotional care can be included to better understand the need for revisions due to the impact of trauma on the learning moment. This process should be gentler and more caring and may take more time than in non-trauma cases. Grace is important here, as is forgiveness, even for those who are designing the instruction. Everyone is raw from what we have been through during the pandemic. Designers, instructors, students, leaders—all are stressed, and all are dealing with their own unique trauma. Being too harsh in our evaluation of our own work is unnecessarily aggravating to traumatic situations.

Summative evaluation remains among the least impacted by the trauma-informed lens. Here, in the moment of decision-making about the ways that the instruction should be utilized in the future, the impact of trauma is least felt. Decisions about whether the instruction "worked" or not, and whether it remains needed or not, do not ultimately rely heavily on the trauma-informed model. The instruction itself might be related to education about the traumatic life event (e.g., how to prevent future wars). In such cases, summative evaluation will be more impacted by findings among traumatized learners. However, this exception is narrow, and decisions related to the return on investment for a given piece of instruction are not likely to be dramatically impacted by the trauma-informed lens.


The traditional ADDIE model is highly linear and step-by-step. After one accomplishes the analysis, one moves on to the design—and likewise for all remaining steps. However, the reality of all ID models is that they are recursive, that is, they revisit earlier decisions. The purpose of such models is to achieve increasingly closer approximations to an ideal final design through small iterative steps. While the ADDIE model appears to be highly linear, those who have practiced and are expert at instructional design will attest to the iterative nature of the process. The model, therefore, does not adequately describe the real process. In a trauma-informed model, recursion or iterations are even more important. Trauma can come in many forms. It can surprise us as designers, and it can arise in unexpected moments for us as instructors. Therefore, understanding the recursive nature of design—and affording ourselves, as designers, the grace to see successive approximations as success rather than pressing ourselves and others in the design cycle to come to a perfect design at the first attempt—is an essential element of TI-ADDIE. The forgiving nature of a recursive design process aligns well with the overall care function of the TI-ADDIE model for a trauma-informed process.


In the center of our TI-ADDIE model we have placed the term "care." We see this concept as the core of this model. Collaborating, employing user-designed approaches that give significant agency and power to the learner/user, and using successive approximations and rapid prototyping are all approaches that align with caring for learners.Footnote14 No one should work in isolation, not even designers. Rather, the focus should be on caring for one another as the primary concern.

Placing care as a central tenet for this model encourages many of the principles outlined earlier: focus on belongingness, attention to emotions, resilience, human flourishing, stress reduction, and prevention of burnout. Care means being adaptable by attending to all of these areas to enhance the probability of successful learning outcomes. It does not mean a loss of accountability or personal growth, which leads to the opposite of care: carelessness.


Infusing the ADDIE model with trauma-informed characteristics is an essential response to the twin crises of COVID-19 and racism in the United States. As a society, we are now beginning to look beyond the immediate emergency, and therefore we must recognize that the way we've done things in the past cannot always be the way we do things in the future. We must reconsider the way we go about design and begin to infuse the trauma-informed models of pedagogy, care, treatment, and therapy into our instructional design models. This type of model may not always be necessary. Perhaps the industry or the learners who are being engaged will be untouched by trauma, though that is unlikely given our current circumstances. Or perhaps there will be a future in which attention to trauma is automatically infused into the instructional design process or is no longer a concern. For now, however, we need to pay attention. A caring model, one that accounts for the trauma likely experienced by learners and that follows the basic ADDIE model while augmenting it, is a simple way to approach a more progressive instructional design process that responds to our current challenges.


  1. For a good review, see Tonia A. Dousay and Robert Maribe Branch, Survey of Instructional Design Models, 6th ed. (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2022). Jump back to footnote 1 in the text.
  2. Treavor Bogard and Alison A. Carr-Chellman, eds., "Special Issue: Trauma-Informed Instructional Design Practices," Journal of Applied Instructional Design 12, no. 1 (February 2023). Jump back to footnote 2 in the text.
  3. Robert Maribe Branch, Instructional Design: The ADDIE Approach, 1st ed. (Boston, MA: Springer-Verlag, 2009). Jump back to footnote 3 in the text.
  4. Walter Dick and Lou Carey, The Systematic Design of Instruction, 4th ed. (New York: Harper, 1996); Nadda Dabbagh, Rose M. Marra, and Jane L. Howland, Meaningful Online Learning: Integrating Strategies, Activities and Learning Technologies for Effective Designs (New York: Routledge, 2019); William Rothwell and H. C. Kazanas, Mastering the Instructional Design Process: A Systematic Approach, 4th ed. (Zurich, Switzerland: Pfeiffer, 2008). Jump back to footnote 4 in the text.
  5. Davin Carr-Chellman, Michael Kroth, and Carol Rogers-Shaw, "Human Flourishing and Adult Education" (paper, Adult Education Research Conference, 2022). Jump back to footnote 5 in the text.
  6. Allison Rossett, Training Needs Assessment (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology, 1987). Jump back to footnote 6 in the text.
  7. For a list of validated trauma exposure surveys, see U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, "Trauma and Stressor Exposure Measures" (website), accessed May 14, 2023. Jump back to footnote 7 in the text.
  8. Karel Vredenburg, Ji-Ye Mao, Paul W. Smith, and Tom Carey, "A Survey of User-Centered Design Practice," in CHI '02: Proceedings of SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (New York: Association for Computing Machinery, 2002), 471–78. Jump back to footnote 8 in the text.
  9. Nate Turcotte, Kea McElfresh, and Melissa Rodriguez-Meehan, "'It's about the Journey, not the Destination': Graduate Students' Perceptions of Ungrading," Journal of Applied Instructional Design 12, no. 1 (February 2023); Carr-Chellman, Kroth, and Rogers-Shaw, "Human Flourishing and Adult Education." Jump back to footnote 9 in the text.
  10. Bogard and Carr-Chellman, "Special Issue: Trauma-Informed Instructional Design Practices." Jump back to footnote 10 in the text.
  11. Kelly-Ann Allen, Christopher D. Slaten, Gökman Arslan, Sue Roffey, Heather Craig, and Dianne A. Vella-Brodrick, "School Belonging: The Importance of Student and Teacher Relationships," in The Palgrave Handbook of Positive Education,  ed. Margaret L. Kern and Michael L. Wehmeyer (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021). Jump back to footnote 11 in the text.
  12. Lisa S. Goldstein, "The Relational Zone: The Role of Caring Relationships in the Co-Construction of Mind," American Educational Research Journal 36, no. 3 (January 1999): 647–73; Lev Vygotsky, Thought and Language (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1962). Jump back to footnote 12 in the text.
  13. Per Engzell, Arun Frey, and Mark D. Verhagen, "Learning Loss Due to School Closures during the COVID-19 Pandemic," in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 118, no. 17 (April 7, 2021). Jump back to footnote 13 in the text.
  14. Alison A. Carr-Chellman, User Design (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006). Jump back to footnote 14 in the text.

Alison A. Carr-Chellman is Dean, School of Education and Health Sciences, at the University of Dayton.

Treavor Bogard is Chair, Department of Teacher Education, and Associate Professor, School of Education and Health Sciences, at the University of Dayton.

© 2023 Alison A. Carr-Chellman and Treavor Bogard