Design Principles,  Emotional Goals and Learning – Definitions and Links

selected by Celia Franzè

Design principles

Principles guide the choices Designers make as they create. Principles apply at all levels of design from broad concept to small detail. For example: Do no harm (Hippocrates), meet user goals. Create the simplest complete solution (Ockham). Create viable and feasible systems (Dubberly, 2001, p. 13).

Design Principles for Schools

1. Learning is social, emotional, cognitive, and academic.

How does any student become a productive learner? What skills must they have? The science tells us that learning is integrated: There are not separate parts of the brain that support academic skills and social skills, for example. The parts of the brain are cross-wired and functionally interconnected. For students to become engaged, effective learners, educators need to simultaneously develop content-specific knowledge and skills along with cognitive, emotional, and social skills. These skills, including executive functions, growth mindset, social awareness, resilience and perseverance, metacognition, curiosity, and self-direction, are malleable: They are not “hardwired” but develop in response to experience. All are correlated with achievement, and all can be taught, modelled, and practiced just like traditional academic skills.

2. Social, emotional, and cognitive skills are interrelated and develop as a progression. 

Cognitive skills like self-regulation, executive functions, and problem-solving interact with emotional skills, such as empathy, emotion recognition, and regulation, and with social skills, including cooperation and communication. These interacting skills develop progressively, but not as a fixed, linear sequence: As with other skills, there are bursts and plateaus. Higher-order skills and abilities, when present, are a combination of foundational social, emotional, cognitive, and academic skill development. When teachers understand that these skills progress in concert with one another, they can design learning experiences that simultaneously build diverse learning skills, supporting engagement and effort instead of singularly focusing on facts and procedures in a given area without attending to social and emotional considerations.

3. Learning of these skills is influenced by relationships and experiences. 

Learning is highly context sensitive. A child’s skill and mindset development relies on an ongoing, dynamic interconnectedness between biology and environment, including relationships and cultural and contextual influences, resulting in significant variation within and across individuals over time. This contrasts with the idea of universal, fixed steps or stages of development. The norm is diverse developmental pathways—not missed opportunities, but rather multiple opportunities to develop new skills and/or catch up. Because each student’s development is nonlinear, with its own unique pathways and pacing that are highly responsive to positive contextual influences and support, the unique challenge of schools is to design personalised, supportive developmental learning experiences for all children, no matter their starting point.

This extends to the development of social, emotional, and cognitive skills, which should be taught throughout childhood and adolescence and may need particular attention when students face chronic, unbuffered stress due to adversity or oppression. In these cases, the development of foundational skills and mindsets, including self-regulation, stress management, and executive function, are at risk. These skills are exquisitely sensitive to the hormone cortisol.


The primary energy source for the wiring of the brain is human connection; the neurochemicals and hormones that are released through human relationships are the fuel causing neurons to fire and connect. As Hebb’s Law states, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” The brain gets increasingly wired, and as it does, we become able to do increasingly complex things, whether it is reading, riding a bike, or gaining resilience. In his 1984 2 Sigma study, Benjamin Bloom demonstrated that building highly favourable conditions into the environments in which children grow and learn steeply improves equity of experience and opportunity. His proxy for highly favourable conditions was an individual tutor. He found that the experience of individual tutoring could take a student performing at the 50th percentile and move their performance up by two standard deviations to the 98th percentile. When he studied his data, he realised that the active ingredient that generated the outcomes he got was access to both the content and the adult– student interaction—the relationship.

In addition, it is equally important to attend to the cognitive skills that are important for academic success and development. Key among these are those related to executive function(link is external), which help learners attend to tasks, plan their work, problem-solve in the face of emerging challenges, and manage themselves in the learning process. These skills include the abilities to monitor and regulate one’s own actions; to organise, prioritise, and activate efforts in order to accomplish tasks; to focus, sustain, and shift attention and alertness as needed to attain goals; and to manage frustration and redirect efforts when needed. The skills that are critical to success in school and in life are often assumed, rather than explicitly taught, and need an equally explicit curricular approach.

Emotional Goals

Emotional Goals are predictive conceptual abstractions that construct social reality, in a collective with other brains. By sharing and synchronising those abstractions we can perceive each other’s emotions and communicate.

Agent-oriented Modelling of Emotional Goals

As digital technologies increase in complexity and collaboration with other disciplines is necessary, a trans-disciplinary approach for developing sociotechnical systems is required, where digital media design practices may be incorporated into software engineering. Agent-oriented models show potential, not only to identify and realise emotional goals, but also to provide an overall progressive evaluation of these goals

To promote the consideration of human factors Marshall proposes a new category of goal, called an emotional goal, to be modelled with equal hierarchy to functional and quality goals. By incorporating emotional goals into agent-oriented models the aim is to signal that the goal may be best realised by a trans-disciplinary approach. When these goals are encountered by software engineers they should seek a domain knowledge expert to apply digital media design methodologies and processes.

Adapted from, and

STERLING, L. & MARSHALL, J. G. 2022. Humans are not rational; artificial agents are not emotional. WOA2022: Workshop from Objects to Agents.

MARSHALL, J. 2021. Towards Wonderful Design, Elements, Principles, Methods & Applications. PhD, Swinburne University.