Carla Arena - Transforming sins into virtues in Design for Learning

Carla' session at the Image conference, Brasilia, was all about showing some common sins when designing digital resources and thinking about noticing the power of good design to enhance learning and power up the visuals in the language classroom.

Carla Arena is a great believer in design when it comes to every stage of teaching or teacher training, taking care of details such as posters to attract teachers to training sessions. 

Back in 2005, Carla believed she was a good designer, but now, looking back and sharing with us a presentation that she created that she is now horrified with what she created.

Some years ago, during an online course, she decided to change, and she shared her sins and how she changed with us during this presentation:

Her first sin was...greed

Crowding everything onto one slide, using lots of different fonts and animations. She changed to a more simpler approach - one image that can convey meaning is always much better.

Using a colour palette is another recommendation. The same kind of reasoning needs to be used when we are creating our slides or creating something for our students. 

Another factor is the font. Decide on a font and stick to the same font family. Avoid at all costs Cómic Sans!

Carla has moved from being greedy to being minimalist.

The second sin was pride...

Carla thinks she was too proud and that she could be self-sufficient. She now believes in stealing and recommends creative stealing, as recommended in the book 'Steal like an Artist'. Nobody needs to start with a blanks slate -not here are hundreds of references out there that you can use. She recommends good theft rather than bad theft (see picture below). When you do this, incredible things will happen in your classroom.

Carla recommends embracing influences and to use a variety of styles. She also says that writing things down in a notebook is necessary too.

Her next sin is sloth. Doing the same things every day makes you bored. We do this often because changes are often uncomfortable, but changes are necessary, especially when you want to create experiences. 

Steve Jobs, for example was all about designing experiences. He was also known for his presentations, and there is a great book called 'The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs' There were 3 acts in his presentations...setting the scene, identifying the enemy and then revealing he experience.

Moving onto the Instructional Design part, Carla says that when creating materials for our students, we should think about te rule of three (a pre-activity, activity itself and a post-activity). She believes that if you break this rule, then you don't have flow.

Quoting Csikszentmihaly, she said we need to Design activities that promote flow.

A trick to learn is how best to transition from the physical to the digital and then back to the physical if you use technology in the classroom. An example she gave that she has used with her students is with a selection of vocabulary. Her First act was to review the words with them. Then they got into groups and they had to write a sentence based on a picture she showed them relations to a word on their list. It is important here to use images that cause emotion. 

Carla started showing us interesting images and gave us words pulled out of a box at random, asking us to write sentences about the images. She next shared the incubation model (E. Paul Torrence) with us (see left) as something to keep in mind when designing materials and finished by sharing with us her mantra for good learning design.

All-in-all, an excellent presentation full of useful advice for teachers, materials developers and presenters.


  1. Great post! I loved the ideas!!! Carla Arena is a great professional!!!! :-)

  2. Wow, Graham! You are an amazing blogger and super fast! See, now I don´t need to do the job myself! Will just add the link to your summary of the presentation. I just need some more time next time to present even more simple ideas, but with powerful results...
    Just loved that you could come and be there with us in Brasilia!


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