Perfect Presentations – Thiagi’s Four Doors


This is my final project for the 18-month-long E-Learning Instructional Design program from the University of California Irvine (UCI.)  When I started the University’s program, I was already an experienced e-learning professional, so I chose a really ambitious task for my final “capstone” project. I decided to build something that would demonstrate my abilities to really engage learners online, so I went for a project based on Thiagi’s Four Doors approach (pdf), which is a wonderfully learner-centred theory that I discovered while on the UCI program. It includes a library with lectures, a café for learners to chat to experts, games to play and a final assessment. It has been a LOT of work to produce, but I’m very pleased with the results so far.

Thiagi's Four Doors

Thiagi’s Four Doors

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Learning Theory

The whole course is built based on the learning theory developed by Dr. Sivasailam Thiagarajan, a.k.a. the Mad Professor, a.k.a. Thiagi. Thiagi realised that instructional designers often ended up learning more about the subject than the actual learners. This, he reasoned, was because instructional designers spend so much time sifting through different documents, chatting with experts and playing around with course content ideas. Thiagi set out to develop a style of online training that replicates this immersive, but casual contact with learning content. He came up with the Four Doors Approach. The four doors represent four different areas of the course. The first is the Library; second, the Café; third is Play and the fourth is Assessment.

  • Library – This is the traditional part of the e-learning course. It contains all the lectures from the tutor, as well as videos and links to external documents.
  • Café – In this part of the class you would often have a forum, or a chat room. Because I wanted to develop an entirely learner-paced course, I set up a simulated chat room with a Subject Matter Expert (SME). I managed to set it up in such a way that the learner could also reflect upon their own thoughts before chatting with the SME. In the next update to the course, I also want to embed Twitter chat rooms into the class, so that past and present learners can informally share their opinions.
  • Play – This area was fun to develop, but the end results are less impressive than I had hoped for. My aim was to build a shooting game for the learners, where they would have a very short amount of time to shoot the maximum number of bad PowerPoint slides. In the end it took too long to build, so with deadlines approaching I parked that job for a future update. Instead I used the built in games engine contained in Captivate. The results are fine, but less rewarding than I’d hoped.
  • Assessment – Part of the fundamental idea behind the four doors approach is the liberty for the learner to choose how they study. The theory is that they may choose the method best suited to their learning approach and so get the most possible benefit out of the course. For this reason, in a Four Doors course, whenever the learner manages to pass the end of course test, they have successfully completed the course. It doesn’t matter if they have viewed 1% or 100% of the slides.


I completely built the User Interface (UI) in this game from scratch. I used a few different Pinterest boards to research UI designs that I liked, then built my course around a couple of designs I found there. I tried to give the course a bit of an app-style feel, with large buttons, simple, contrasting colours and large-font text wherever possible.

  • Captivate – I used an advanced Captivate feature, variables, to build the café interaction. I was really pleased how simple it was to work out. I think I’ll use variables when I go ahead and build my own shoot-’em-up game later on. Thanks to the in-built Captivate games engine to save time,  it was nice, quick and simple to build a game using Adobe’s template. The lesson to myself is that I should build my own template games. I also saved a lot of time in the design phaser by building master slides first, then building the actual content. Finally, I also tried out Adobe’s responsive design engine. I worked at it for a couple of days, but then found that when re-sizing to anything other than the set dimensions Adobe gives you, the content layout went haywire. I had items stacking up on top of each other and others ending up off the stage completely. From talking to other e-learning professionals on the course, it seems like Captivate 8’s famed “responsive design” is universally agreed to be über-complicated and perhaps not yet ready?
  • Photoshop  – I used Photoshop a lot in the design process for things like building customised buttons, re-colouring graphic elements and building colour matching UI elements.
  • PowerPoint – I love PowerPoint, especially the new 2013 version, so I used it for all the planning & storyboarding of my content. I also used it  for sketching out the second, drafts of my UI design after I had drawn them by hand. As an advanced PowerPoint user, it just has all the tools I need for e-learning design and fits my workflow really well.
  • Audacity – This course has quite a lot of audio recording and narration in it. In order to get the best possible sound, I used a Samson Go microphone, a pop filter and an excellent Noise Gate plugin for Audacity. This helped me get the professional results you hear here.

What I like about this Portfolio Piece

I loved that this was an opportunity to build a full, complete e-learning project from beginning to end. This isn’t often something that most people have the time to produce for their portfolio (and often there isn’t time in the workplace, either!) By planning things out well in advance, the e-learning development phase went extremely smoothly. Basically, I already knew what I wanted to build. I just had to follow my own instructions.  If you want, you can read all the planning documents here as I have already posted them to my Digitalang site.

I’m also really pleased with the overall feel of the piece, from the learner-centred course design, to the UI design, to the generally rich, professional feel of the course. At the time of writing, there are still some  small changes, a couple of errors still to correct, but generally I’m a happy bunny.

What I Am Planning to Do Next

The course was deliberately built using an Agile Development approach. This means that I planned to get a working course built as soon as possible. In future updates to the site I will add more functionality and more content. For example, the assessment stage is really quite weak at the moment and definitely needs to have more content added. I didn’t really like the games, so I might even add in the “Guru Game” mechanic that I previously built. I’ll probably try to convert the Guru Game into a template-based game engine.  My next step is to implement SCORM reporting, so that the course automatically sends learner information back to to the server.

I hope you enjoy your experience!

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