What’s Your Course Design Language?

Self-directed learning

By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

If you haven’t heard, Blackboard is in the midst of re-imagining their products on a very broad scale. Over on the Blackboard Blog, John Kolko, Vice President of Product, Innovation, and Design at MyEdu recently shared the “design language system” for the company’s new product.

When I read this post, my first thought was design language system – those are cool words. What the heck do they mean?

Reading on, I learned that “a design language system describes the heart and soul of a product”. Still unsatisfied and confused, I did a little research (yup, Wikipedia is as deep as I’ll dig on a Monday morning). It seems that a design language is a description of the style that a new product will take. It’s a way of encompassing the look, feel, and experience of the product.

Put another way, a design language is sort of like a branding manual. It helps designers make informed decisions to create a product with a consistent experience from function to function.

Kolko sums up Blackboard’s new design language by summarizing these 3 guiding principles:

  1. Above all, support the emotional needs of learners.
  2. Sweat all of the details, all of the time.
  3. Do less, better.

For readers interested in digging deeper, Kolko offers a link to a detailed catalog and showcase of the design language in action, which includes a pretty nifty video, too!

While the sneak peak at the future of Blackboard was nice, what I’m really thinking about now is this new (to me) term, “design language”. Every year, every semester, I redesign my courses. I wonder if it wouldn’t be worth coming up with a design language of my own to try to focus my efforts a little bit more and create a better experience for my users (the students).

I don’t want to add too much more work for myself, so in following Blackboard’s model, I’ll keep my design language for the courses I’m working on to three core principles (but I won’t build a website or video to describe them to anyone!). Here goes…

  1. Learning should be fun, and every aspect of the course should communicate this.
  2. Every minute of navigation is a minute of learning lost.
  3. Learning takes time. Learners make mistakes.

I can see these principles guiding decisions I make about what I do in class, my revision policies, my assessments, my Blackboard layout, and just about everything else. How about you? What three principles might inform your course design process?

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