I plan to research the potential to create an experience rich engagement for learners who are both creating and contributing to online learning materials via a platform that is design-led and experience driven taking into consideration todays robust networked infrastructure and connected society.

A more delightful and design considered virtual learning environment (VLE) could provide a better experience for tutors and students, that both predicts and establishes new behaviours.

Potential core question

Could a brand new platform guided by delightful, design-led & ethical consideration enhance the tutor and student VLE experience ?


Jussi Parikka –

Hugh Davis (Director of CITE) –


Through my PhD Research I will suggest that now is an opportune time to shake up the status quo and a chance to re-imagine the approach to a VLE.

I propose that although some new learning environments are being created such as the trend in MOOCs (massively open online courses) and less recently open education repositories these are often driven by marketing, business or technology(features) and that there is a void for an experience and design-led VLE specifically within design education.

Blackboard is profiteering from the efforts of others (Groom)

The research and outputs I create will encompass the ethos of the new Indie Tech Manifesto (Balkan, 2014), launching in July 2014, this manifesto born from the Edward Snowden leaks and the privacy issues around ‘free’ services has 3 core principles.

  • Design-led
  • Free and Open
  • Independent

I will argue that just as we have seen teaching in the classroom move from the content driven to the experience driven, the same principles can apply to the VLE where focus must shift from the features and tech to a design-led concept that goes beyond the functional but provides a truly “delightful” (Walter, 2011) learning experience.

To take a design-led yet open source approach will allow space to create and experiment with new paradigms around interface, user behaviour and interaction with screen located learning materials.

Technology that is transparent is easy to use and has little demands on the cognitive energy of the user. Transparent technology is often referred to as ‘user friendly’ in that it allows the user to ‘see through’ the device into what it is able to do for them. (John & Wheeler, 2008; p 96)


My PhD is research led practice and the aim is to create a number of online experiments (prototypes) and user testing aimed at Art & Design higher education staff and students.

Through these experiments and written reflection I will look to develop an appropriate visual language around the access of online design education materials through the interface.

By building various prototypes that are learning materials focussed, community of practice focused and support both inside and outside the classroom this research hopes to culminate in a brand new open source VLE for use within Art & Design higher education.

There are links and synergy specifically with the Graphic Arts (GA) research hub inkubator already formed under Derek Yates, inkubator would be an ideal vehicle for the research, experimentation and user testing of the products produced.

I would like to ensure that considerations for a VLE embrace the delivery medium (networked devices/screens/context) and that the design of the VLE scaffolds from the learning materials and builds out, I want to considering a transparent experience that can transition from the virtual to the “in person” and allow students seamless interaction and community both inside and outside the physical location of the studios.

The theory of scaffolding (Bruner) also applies where students can gain support for their learning from their peers, their tutors and also through their tools. These include the Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky) which describes how individual learners can extend the amount they learn when they are connected to other more knowledgeable individuals.(Wheeler.S, 2014)

My written work will be a conversation around the prototypes, user testing and any finished products but it will also lead the practice and thus investigate the role of the VLE, taking into account aspects such as the Personal Learning Environment (PLE), the robust networks and connected studios. I want to look at the historical journey of companies such as Moodle and why this and many VLEs have ended up with the same visual language along with historical interface design concepts and consideration. The research will also look at the current culture of design influence (Apple as a prime example) and core user design and user experience principles. A key area I would like to focus design consideration will be on how the visual language of a VLE could both predict and influence behaviour around learning objects.

Our lives are a string of experiences. Experiences with people and experiences with things. And we, as designers — as the people who craft experiences — we have a profound responsibility to make every experience as beautiful, as comfortable, as painless, as empowering, and as delightful as possible. (Balkan, 2013)

Wrap up

I’d like to write an “Open” PhD, publish in some open manner if possible and produce external resources such as the following sites and a potential podcast interview series to document the process. –

Video of my recent Staff seminar – – password: drpro

Some related references

  • Wheeler.S , Active learning spaces. Available at: [Accessed June 18, 2014].
  • Walter, A. & Spool, J.M., 2011. Designing for Emotion,
  • Paterson, K., 2005. Differentiated Learning, Pembroke Publishers Limited.
  • Shaughnessy, A. & Brook, T., 2009. Studio Culture, Laurence King Publishers.
  • Dirksen, J., 2011. Design For How People Learn, New Riders.
  • Saffer, D., 2009. Designing for Interaction,
  • Belshaw, D., 2013. The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. pp.1–100.
  • John, P. & Wheeler, S., 2012. The Digital Classroom, Routledge.
  • McFarland, C., Experiments for Designers, Five Simple Steps.
  • Wheeler, S., See-through learning. Available at: [Accessed April 29, 2014].
  • Kahneman, D., 2012. Thinking, Fast and Slow, Penguin UK.
  • Wenger, E., 2012. Brief introduction to communities of practice,