In this interview, I discuss the 4Door™ 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 4Door™ Model, can you give me a little background on how it originated?
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 4Door™ 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.]
COACH: 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.
COACH: What would you say is the significance of this approach?
RUSS: 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 4Door™ Model?
RUSS: That’s tough to answer. There’s really no “best way.” Every learner will go through a 4Door™ 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.”
COACH: Does this approach completely do away with the systematic organization of content? Is any instructional or content analysis performed by the designer?
RUSS: Well, I’d have to say Yes and No. Let’s look at the Yes answer first. And let me start by saying that this model is EXTREMELY flexible. Also, when I say “Yes, we’re doing away with instructional and content analyses,” we’re not really doing away with them altogether, we’re just doing them VERY quickly.
Let’s say you’ve got an instructional project to get out the door and there’s virtually no time and very few resources available to do a thorough content analysis. If I were using this model, I’d sit down with the subject-matter expert(s) and determine a reasonable final activity—ideally some task that can be done, observed and qualified in the field. Then we’d gather the most relevant and available content we could find that would support the performance of that activity and use it as is.
And the “No” answer to your question? That’s probably obvious. If you’ve got more time and resources, then yes, do more organizing and analysis—but not too much.
COACH: What types of content would you use?
RUSS: The content could be manuals, marketing material, videos, slide shows, white papers, etc. If there’s a lot of content, I’d lean on the SME to help me do some prioritizing, focusing only on what’s MOST important—that which most directly supports the final activity.
COACH: So its kind of content analysis on the fly?
RUSS: When I ask the SMEs to be thinking about good game items, they’re performing content analysis—choosing the most important content. I might help them re-write some of the game items, so they read well, but often they can do this on their own.
Earlier you asked about organizing content. This model is kind of self-organizing. The organization comes from the SMEs prioritization of content for the Library, and the fact that games are located in one place, primary content in another, social components in another, etc.
COACH: What do you see as the advantages to a self-organized approach to instruction?
RUSS: In this model, there’s an assumption at play that suggests that if the content is a little less organized than it might be in other models, the students/participants have to engage with it more and, as a result, learn more from doing so.
While this might be a little awkward and uncomfortable at first, it mimics real-life. We’re constantly thrown into awkward and uncomfortable situations, and I think we often learn a lot from them. This model encourages a greater investment on the part of the learner and I believe results in more “stickiness,” greater learning.
COACH: Can you tell us more about the frame-games in the Playground?
RUSS: The frame-games in the playground provide review and practice opportunities. Although the frame-games may not be slick, with lots of bells and whistles, they offer the designer a quick and easy way to help learners engage with the content in an addictive way to test their knowledge of it.
More specifically, the games help learners:
- Recall and organize factual information
- Associate components with different stages and steps
- Emphasize critical features
- Identify major differences among concept classes
- Gain fluency in recalling information
COACH: Are the frame-games produced with a template in an authoring environment?
RUSS: Yes. Exactly. At Sun Microsystems we had the luxury of building our own frame-games, but there are many tools out there for building frame-games. I think Thiagi is selling his frame-games from his website at thiagi.com at a very reasonable price. CarsonMedia has an eGame Generator too that I’ve used in the past , and Articulate QuizMaker has a handful of templates that can be used to build frame games. If any of your readers get stuck on this or want to build something of their own, have them contact me, I’d be happy to discuss ideas with them. (See the Resources listed below for links.)
COACH: Finally, how do learners who are used to more structured learning environments know where to start? Do you help them initially?
RUSS: In the four-door projects I completed for Sun Microsystems (now Oracle), we didn’t want to give the student/participant too much. We felt that encouraging the user to explore the content was a valuable thing. But we also had a lot of concerns about alienating or losing users who just weren’t interested in exploring the content.
We ended up doing three things to address this concern. The first, and probably most important was the design of the interface. We tried to make it somewhat intuitive and easy to navigate. We went through at least four or five designs before we settled on one. User feedback suggested that we chose an interface that was relatively easy to use.
The second was to include some linear learning paths in the Guide Me section. If users got overwhelmed or lost, they could go to Guide Me and find documents that walked them through the course step-by-step. For example, “Step 1 – Go to the Library; Step 2 – Read the documents that are unfamiliar to you; Step 3 – Visit the Playground.”
The last thing was to include an introductory video on the main page that provided a three-minute tour of the user interface and the content.
COACH: What kind of response did you get to this learning experience?
RUSS: The user feedback we received suggested that the vast majority of users enjoyed the exploration that the course encouraged. There were very few who appeared to have trouble getting started or became overwhelmed by the experience.
To summarize, the model combines the effective organization of online documents (in the library), with the motivational impact of frame-games (in the playground), the power of collaborative learning (in the café), and authentic performance tests (in the assessment center).
Learn more at Thiagi’s Site: The 4Door™ Learning Approach