Have you ever been told your eLearning courses were engaging, fun, approachable, or fresh? It finally happened to me and I owe it to the 4-Door design model.
Currently, my primary employer (for about a decade) has been a financial services software company. For them, I almost exclusively create eLearning content using various media to train our clients how to use our software – large, enterprise-systems that run their financial institutions. This is important because it identifies the type of training we do – external clients, software training, for profit, etc.
In the past, similar to most eLearning development teams, we developed very linear courses. These courses may have included some basic branching situations, there may have been basic simulations, but it was all essentially glorified “Next” buttons and a skill check at the end. They start at the beginning and work their way to the end, module by module.
We were ready for a shift because we could sense the change in the industry starting to occur. We had been looking at the concept of “flipping the classroom” as a way to rethink what we were doing. I intend to spend a good deal of time discussing that model in several other posts – this is not that discussion though.
One day, I was looking through some blog posts that I receive through various blog feed tools and I saw one about a new Instructional Design model called the “4-Door” model.
WHAT IS THE 4-DOOR MODEL?
As I was reading the article by Connie Malamed, the eLearning Coach, I became fascinated. This was exactly the model we were looking for. Best of all, it was developed by Thiagi, an industry guru on games, so it didn’t feel like just a “me-too” design model. However, at the time, I did not have a lot of validation to show that.
If you don’t know who Thiagi is, here is a link to his web site so you can learn more about him, his specialization, and The Tiagi Group.
Here are some of the original articles I came across as I was doing further research:
- Four Doors for Busy Non-Dummies – https://blogs.oracle.com/clo/entry/four_doors_for_busy_non
- The Four-door Model: Rapid eLearning Design – http://theelearningcoach.com/elearning_design/the-four-door-model-rapid-elearning-design/
- The eLearning Guild’s Online Forum document on this design model.
This design model is actually about 4-5 years old, as of my writing this.
Essentially, it divides the content into four primary sections (really five, but who is counting, right). Then, it further separates the content into small chunks (which the industry is starting to call micro-learning).
The sections are:
- A library –Where you put all your resources for the course. This includes your workbooks, glossary, job aids, introductory videos, process flow diagrams, etc.
- A “Learn it” section – Where you have your basic eLearning content that everyone expects to have in the course. This includes content and activities.
- From the Experts – The content everyone always says NEEDS to be in the course, but is usually awkward to fit into the course. This content may be too advanced for the audience, add unnecessary bloat to the course, or doesn’t really fit the flow of the course and the subject matter experts still require it to be there anyway.
- Case Studies – Your storytelling piece that ties the content into real-world scenarios.
- Test Me – This is the final skill assessment for the course.
Here is an image of the design that was used in the original project that spawned this design model. This is what we used as our design model as we developed our own version.
As you can see, some of the names are different then what I described. I provided you with the names WE decided to use for your content.
The main section that changed was the Arcade. We changed that section to “Learn It” due to the nature of our learners and the environment into which we deliver content. What YOU call the sections doesn’t really matter. What you put in the sections is really the important part of this discussion.
Here is another diagram that someone else created showing the model. Again, you can see the names are different, but the general concept is the same.
- Playground equates to our “Learn It” section.
- We included “Torture Chamber” in our “Learn It” section as the challenges.
- They created a social interaction area titled “Café”. In the original design image, this was titled “Ask the Experts”. We did not include this because it was not something we could easily support since we serve external clients at hundreds of client sites, rather than internal employees who were in predictable environments.
- They chose not to use the “Case Studies” section in their diagram.
- We changed “Ask the Experts” to “From the Experts” because it fit our model better.
Unfortunately, due to proprietary reasons, I cannot share our final design. However, the visual design is similar to the look and feel of the original design shown in the first image. The largest difference is obviously color scheme. It needed to match our company’s style guide.
In the end, it is a flexible design model that allows you to mold it to meet your specific needs. This is one of the reasons we found it to be very valuable to us.
WHY DID I FIND THIS MODEL INTERESTING?
This model does a few things for our development that have been very successful:
- It gives us a framework to start the discussions with our subject matter experts (SMEs)
- It allows a place for the content that always seems to become part of the course that should probably not be there, but is because a SME decided it needed to be there.
- It demonstrates pretty clearly for the SME how to chunk content down to digestible pieces.
- It automatically moves the courses into a more personalized delivery. The learner can go to the section that interests them the most, and they can do this in whatever order they decide they want. Also, once in a section, they can access whatever chunk of content they feel they want to access, and again, in whatever order they would like.
Let’s now discuss the various sections of the model in a little more depth.
I like this section a lot. It is a great starting place for new learners. We tend to have a lot of process diagrams, guides, job aids, terminology, and concept demonstrations. Because it is software training, there usually needs to be a map of how the content fits with other portions of our system or the workflow process you should use with the outlined tasks.
If the learner is a more advanced learner, they might simply just skim this section and grab what they need. The cool thing is that you don’t have to have your learners slog through a bunch of terminology and introductory lessons if they don’t need that content.
This is also a really good place to store existing content. You can simply link to that content (probably PDFs or PowerPoint presentations) as a resource. This will allow you to speed up development time because, in theory, you don’t need to totally redesign this content – it’s a resource and can stand on its own as part of the whole.
As I stated earlier, this is the standard eLearning content people expect to see. Each lesson is represented either by a menu item or by a button of some sort. This allows for bite-sized learning. You can load this section up with as many pieces of content as you need, but each one is still only about 5-10 minutes long.
We made a decision early on in the original design decisions to create a “Challenge Yourself” section within this area as well.
In traditional eLearning course design, you might have the content and then at the end of the lesson, you might have a skill check that covers that content. In our design, we separated these out so someone could go through the challenges and self-determine the content they needed further information about.
This was a way for us to rethink course objectives. These challenges defined the course objectives for the learner.
CASE STUDIES/FROM THE EXPERTS
These sections were totally new for us and allowed us some design freedom we did not use to have. This had three benefits:
- Our SMEs found this to be very exhilarating because they did not get told that there wasn’t a spot for their content in the course. For our first course built using this design model, we had a three-hour SME Interview session. This included a trainer, a representative from the Client Support team, a Business Analyst, and myself. This design structure allowed us to easily start spitting out content and sorting it into the sections of the course. We had so much content that we were able to easily determine that there were really two courses within all of our content.
- Our company has a lot of analytic-type of employees. When we talk about our software, we have typically been feature driven. This has a downside – we sometimes get “deep in the weeds” talking about what our tools can do, without bringing it back around to real-life situations that show how our clients can use our tools to solve a problem or create new benefits for their customers. We know that the use of business storytelling has proven to help learners connect what they are learning to real situations they will experience. This, in turn, makes the content more “sticky” and helps the learner remember the content we are presenting in the course. Because we specifically had a section in our course for this type of content, we needed to make sure there was something in that area of the course.
- Our non-training groups that were part of the development process had examples of how to use our software in the field, as well as various situations they had collected over the years. This is content we did not need to create from scratch. The Case Studies/From the Experts section became a great area for reusing information from FAQ documents and existing case studies with which they had been involved.
RESULT OF OUR DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS
Overall, the result of the first course using this model was very positive. I actually had reviews from other coworkers and clients saying that they really enjoyed the exploration aspect of this design. They felt like there was always something new to see or learn about. This, in turn, made them feel excited to take the course and felt that it had a game-like aspect to it. This was a totally different type of response than I have received in the past from my reviewers. Typically, they like it and it does what it is supposed to do. They had never said it was fun and enjoyable.
I was charged with demonstrating our new course to our larger client base at a client conference. I received similar comments there. I heard statements like “I enjoy the new look and feel”, “This is very approachable”, and “I think our employees are going to enjoy working with your new tools! We really like this direction”. When was the last time you got comments like that?
That was about two years ago. Today, this design model has become a standard for our course design process and we have termed these courses “resource centers”. Our team has embraced this concept and now we have about seven or eight courses in this format.
When you shift to a new design model, it doesn’t always go perfectly. We had challenges. I plan to discuss some of the challenges we have experienced, how we dealt with them and how this model has affected our development process in a future post.
HAVE YOU USED THIS MODEL?
For a bit of time, this design model did not get much buzz. I knew it was a good thing and I knew that we were benefitting from it. Last year, at an industry conference (DevLearn 2014, I think) I saw a breakout session in their promotional material that was about this design model. VINDICATION! It got industry acceptance!
Did you attend that session? Have you used this design model? Have you ever heard of this design model? Did you receive the same results I am describing? Pick up the mic and share your experiences or what you know of this design model.
If you have not heard of this design model before, do you think you will give it a shot and see what how it goes?