The Four-door Model: Rapid eLearning Design

In this interview, I discuss the Four-door Design Model with Russ Powell, who worked with its creator, Dr. Sivasailam Thiagarajan, a.k.a. Thiagi, several years ago. This is a two-part interview.

COACH: Before we get into the Four-door Model, can you give me a little background on its origination?

RUSS: I worked closely with Thiagi several years ago and during that time I picked up a saying of his that goes something like this, “In any given instructional project the person who learns the most is not the student, but the instructional designer. It’s the instructional designer who’s combing through all the content, parsing and sorting as he or she goes, deciphering the often poorly written material and trying to figure out what’s important and what’s not. If the ID learns more from all this “engagement” with the material—why not split some of that energy and activity with the student?”

COACH: What is the Four-door Model?
RUSS: The “four doors” represent four different areas or components of the learning environment: 1) The Library, 2) The Playground, 3) The Café, and 4)The Evaluation Center. [Note: Any of the components can be named in a way that's appropriate to the audience, as shown in the screen sample.]

thiagi-modelCOACH: Would you explain each of the components?
RUSS: The Library contains the content of the course or module—the information required to master the learning objectives and to successfully complete the final performance test. It typically contains pre-built or existing content, such as videos, documents, slide shows, photos, and audio files. Anything that contains meaningful content and could be put on the Web is used. Learners are invited to study the content in any way they prefer.

The Playground contains fast-paced frame-games that provide practice in recalling and applying the content from the library. They help increase fluency. The frame-games typically require the learner to type or choose short answers. Learners can play each frame game repeatedly at up to three levels of difficulty.

The Café contains social learning activities. A good example is the open-question game which uses open-ended questions to encourage the learner to reflect on the content presented in the library. Learners respond to each question by typing an answer in a text box. When complete, the learner can review the answers given by experts and fellow participants. The café may also include other social-learning components such as wikis, blogs, message boards, etc. Facebook and LinkedIn groups would fall under this category.

The Evaluation Center is simply the test center. It contains the performance test. Ideally, instead of using multiple-choice questions, the evaluation asks the learner to complete or participate in an actual job-related assignment.

Home Page for a Thiagi Course. The Case Studies are part of the Library.

COACH: What would you say is the significance of this approach?
I think there are two main reasons that it’s important:

First, this model helps both training and non-training professionals build instructionally-savvy online training programs relatively quickly and cheaply. If you’re a subject matter expert with no training in instructional design and all you have is some guidance on how to “fill in” these four doors, you can build yourself a reasonably good training program rather quickly and cheaply.

Second, it provides a nice alternative to what has become traditional online training. It’s an alternative that’s fast and cheap, and offers more control to adult learners regarding how they learn.

COACH: What’s the best way to proceed through the Four-door Model?
That’s tough to answer. There’s really no “best way.” Every learner will go through a four-door course in a different manner. I like the way Thiagi puts it. He says, “If you are a law-abiding citizen, you may begin at the Library and proceed through the Playground and the Café to the Evaluation Center. If you are a wild and impulsive participant, you may hop, skip, and jump your way among the modules and sections. You may go to the Playground first, get trounced, find out what types of questions are asked, and then work your way through the Library. If you feel lucky (or have a bloated sense of self-esteem), you may skip all of the studying, go directly to the Evaluation Center, and complete the assignment. And if you are a grasshopper, you may skim through the Library, jump to the Café, enjoy the frame-games in the Playground, and then return to the Library for some serious studying.”

Continue to Part 2 of this interview.

Other Articles on Design:
How To Organize Content
How To Design For Novices
How To Design For Experts
The Future Of Learning Design

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  1. Sheri says

    I have never heard of the four door model before. It’s concrete, making it a model that would translate well for those unfamiliar with learning theories or design. I also like that the evaluation piece would strive to go beyond testing. Thank you for sharing.


  2. says

    Hi Sheri. Thanks for your comment. Yes, I think this model could work for people who aren’t initiated into the world of ID, but I also think it would be even more effective if an experienced instructional designer were involved. It definitely has it’s place and usefulness. I look forward to trying it out on my next brave client!


  3. says

    I simply love this approach. You’re right in that it addresses so many issues currently associated with rapid eLearning development; it also would seem to provide a high probability of success for the instructional program. I too will look for a brave client to experiment with. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to part 2.


  4. says

    Connie, thanks for the opportunity to share my experience w/ this model through your blog. I’m glad to see positive responses about the approach.

    Readers, if you’re interested in discussing more details of the model, feel free to contact me. RP



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