This weekend, I came across an article on designer Dieter Rams. While his name may not be familiar with most people, his designs definitely are. In his years working for Braun, he was involved in the design and development of over 500 products including hair dryers, portable radios and bookshelves. Besides showing images of some of Rams’ more recognizable creations, the article also included different principles that Rams recommends for good design. While the principles are probably better applied to the design of physical objects, the list also resonated with me as being applicable to the world of online teaching. Here are a few of the connections I drew.
1. Good design is innovative. While developing an online class can be difficult and time consuming, the course should be designed so it can evolve and expand with time. While the basic design must be “long-lasting” (another of Rams’ design principles), the overall course should reflect current technologies and pedagogies to engage students and foster their learning. The innovative online class is designed so it leverages what we know about learning, incorporates the best methods and technologies available and is able to change with time.
2. Good design is aesthetic. Online course design involves much more than uploading PowerPoint slides and Word documents into a Learning Management System. Aesthetically, the course should be designed to visually connect with students and draw them into learning. An aesthetically designed online class isn’t one that simply uses pretty colors or graphics. To be aesthetic, the class must be simply designed and organized and draw on what we know about presentation of information and student learning (Multimedia Principles and Universal Design for Learning).
3. Good design makes a product understandable. Are your students lost when they enter your online class? A well-designed online class should make sense to students who enter the environment for the first time. Wondering whether your online course is completely understandable? Survey your students and find out. If they’re unable to navigate the learning environment you’ve designed, students will have a lot of trouble being successful.
4. Good design is unobtrusive. Online learning environments need to be welcoming spaces for students. The layout of the course should not interfere with learning and should support the learning activities in the space. In other posts, I’ve discussed the importance of developing a strong Community of Inquiry in an online class. Designing an unobstrusive online learning environment can help foster the social presence that is so critical to the success of online learning.
5. Good design is honest. While I’m sure Rams wasn’t directly talking about establishing expectations when he talks about honesty of design, as an online educator, I see how important this is. In online classrooms, students need to know the rules of the game and need to have all expectations clearly outlined. How often should they be online? What contributions are you requiring? How will you evaluate their work? How can they communicate with you? Including these expectations (and others) in clear terms will make the design of the class more honest and transparent.
6. Good design is a little design as possible. Too much can be too much. I know that isn’t really profound but as online educators, we need to fully examine the tools we use and why we’re using them. I have some colleagues who want to include every tool that’s available in the Learning Management System. But that’s not really the point. In my professional development sessions, I recommend that online teachers examine the purpose of the tools they use and use only those that support the achievement of learning objectives.