Atrus was inspired by his grandmother Anna who continually urged him to "see". He was discussing his 4 basic concepts of Age-writing with his sons for years during trips to other Ages; when he decided to design a course of study, he believed that it should be observational.
The Ages that comprised the course were:
- J'nanin the Lesson Age, the hub world that provides an experimential demonstration of Age-building concepts, and also houses links to the 4 Element Ages.
- Voltaic, the Age of Energy, designed to show that Energy powers future motion
- Amateria, the Age of Dynamic Forces, designed to show that Dynamic Forces spur change
- Edanna, the Age of Nature, designed to show that Nature encourages mutual dependence
- Narayan, the Age of Balance, designed to show that Balanced systems stimulate civilization
Each Element Age was written with a specific element in mind in order to showcase the primary principles shared by all stable Ages. 3 of the Element Ages were uninhabited and crafted so to encourage study and comprehension through direct observation and interaction with its fundamental principle. When one was "solved" at the end, a symbol was uncovered. Each symbol gathered from the lesson realized, was entered into a mechanism in the J'nanin Observatory, triggering a hologram recording from Atrus with explanations about what they experienced.
When all 3 symbols were entered, the book to the fourth Age was unlocked, Narayan, where a living civilization thrived based on a delicate symbiosis of elements. At first the students arrived to a linking chamber sealed inside a crystal-generated ice shield. As a final test, they had to translate the three Narayani symbols that summarize the above basic concepts that Atrus discussed with them for years. Doing so, they could disable the shield and meet the Narayani civilization where an appointed tutor, Saavedro, expected them. They would live in Narayan seeing how its civilization was the living embodiment of the Balance concept with Saavedro guiding them through the experience.