Designing Positive Language Learning Experiences

A Case Study, Code University Capstone Project, Spring 2021


Computer-assisted language learning tools are part of our lives in different ways and the current most popular CALL tools in the market seem to use effective techniques that ignite external motivation with gamification and benefit from the memory-building methods. However they seem to lack focus on creating more human focused experiences. 

During this case study the internal research and interviews demonstrated that with the focus on people’s learning experience and their psychological needs, there is room for improvement in terms of designing more positive experiences for people without just focusing on evaluating the effectiveness of current tools and bettering them.

This project was focused on analysis and ideation for enabling positive language learning experiences, prototyping end evaluating was topic of the following thesis work that came as second part of this work.

With the focus on learning experience and psychological needs, there is room for improvement in terms of designing more positive experiences.

The Experience Design Approach 

According to Hassenzahl’s hierarchy of goals modal, HCI technology design evolves into a more human perspective and aims to create experiences for people which are focused on ‘Why’ or in other terms ‘Be’ goals of people (Hassenzahl, 2010). 

In his book Experience Design, Hassenzahl exemplifies ‘Be’ goal-focused design by talking about an imaginary kitchen mixer product designed with experience in mind which aims for a three-year-old child to use it safely in the kitchen to enable father-daughter experience story positively (Hassenzahl, 2010, p. 64). To enable this child safety aspect in the design the mixer lacks efficiency. However,  sharing this example he states that a good tool is not judged by efficiency but if it enables a positive experience between him and his daughter in their kitchen while cooking together.  

With the inspiration from this approach, in this project the main focus exploring and enabling positive experiences for people and technology stayed as secondary or later focus point, at least until the aimed experiences are designed as stories.

Human experience first, technology second.

Project Plan

When planning the project it was split in two, first analysis of several resources and as a main research tool doing qualitative interviews and then second part was creating ideas and experience stories.


  • Hypothesis 
  • Secondary Research: get inspired
  • Opening Discussions in Online Communities
  • Individual Qualitative Interviews of Language Learners:
  • Patterns
  • Insight Statements


  • Experience Map
  • How might we?
  • Experience Design stories (two )
  • Mockup Creation (one)
  • Documentation of the Solution


To have a more clear direction for the project there has been hypothesis being defined in the beginning. The pattern from IDEO toolkit has been used for creating them and in the end they were not for limiting the direction but just writing down initial assumptions and goals before having the new insights.

Secondary Research

Before having our own interviews and discussions, existing literature has been read and they are being used as inspiration for experience stories.

More than 30+ papers or books has been taking into consideration which is consisting around topics like design, interviews with language learning, computer assisted methods for language learning. Here are some highlights that directly effected the experience being designed:

  • However, in an earlier study, it has been discovered that usage of a wiki, which is a collaborative platform, has various positive effects on learners therefore it has been suggested by the authors that future researchers may consider the usage of diversified use of wikis in collaborative language learning  (Fan Su & Di Zou, 2020).
  • Alternatively, recent studies give hints about the possible evolution of these language learning tools, according to King, ‘It has been possible to demonstrate the particular social relevance of Wikipedia-writing for the participants and how this computer-mediated socialization experience can “ignite the vision” (Dörnyei, 2009, p. 33) of an ideal English writing self in the future. (King, B. W. 2015)’.


Secondary research gave inspiration and a more solid basis for the final aimed experience by design.

Online Discussions 

Going to communities of language learners and igniting conversations that people share their positive experiences. Alongside the next step of individual qualitative interviews, online discussions was a secondary source to gave us patterns of positive experiences of people while learning a new language. 

There has been 4 discussions being started on different subreddits which is after a introduction asking a main question of: “Can you share with me moments you’ve really enjoyed __ (language that specific subreddit aims for) learning and describe how it happened?”

There has been answers from 30+ different people and later they have been evaluated with qualitative analysis tools separately from the interviews.

Individual Qualitative Interviews

Individual interviews were the main tool of discovery in this project. Seven interviews have been conducted amongst language learners with different types of preferences. Interviews were semi-structured with mostly open-ended questions, and they took around 45 minutes each.

Even though there was an initial checklist, interviews have been kept open to gather as many detailed experiences as possible from each individual. Chats were rather friendly conversations to gather true feelings of the moments and also there was a questionary for each unique experience to understand which psychological needs (Sheldon et al., 2001) they fulfilled to be reported as a positive or meaningful experience.

Here are some highlights from interview transcripts:


Looking at the secondary research, online discussions and mainly the qualitative semi-structured narrative interviews there has been patterns being emerged which would eventually enable more positive experiences.

With reading and highlighting all the input and taking notes, Quirkos also being used to analysis interview transcripts and see the patterns visually. Also the quantitate data coming from asking about psychological needs has been integrated into the patterns.

Online discussions and interview transcripts has been analysed separately and surprisingly had similar patterns.

Insight Statements 

After seeing all the patterns that have been emerged by analysis of different inputs, there has been an insight statement written for each pattern group to give light for the ideation process.

All insights are simplified as a title and a description with linking relevant findings from inputs and here are some highlights:

Experience Map

After having patterns and insight statements, as the first step of ideation and also serving as a bit of the last step of the analysis, an experience map has been created. The main purpose here was to see all the smaller experience patterns in a learner’s journey like the big picture so when there is an idea or concept we can see where it can be placed and with which parts it can have touch-points.

The map consists of actions that usually happen in that order in a learner’s journey with below experiences as smaller notes which comes from research insights.

Creating this map helped in ideation with providing clear steps of learners journey where concepts can be placed.

How Might We?

Before writing our experience stories ‘How might we?’s were the last step was looking at each phase and the insight group asking some questions and then evaluating those questions with color-coding them to see which questions of HMWs are the best ones to aim for in creating an experience story.

Here are some highlight HMWs from over 25+ of them which has been attached to 6 different insight groups.

Experience Stories

Looking at the HMWs and all the possible touchpoints of the insights, 2 different stories of 2 different persons have been written for aiming different patterns of this research. In these stories, technology was almost completely out of the equation and it was more focused on each individual’s experience.

In these stories personal backgrounds of our main characters has been defined to clarify the need for the experience. Then the fulfilling experience has been defined in a story where each character plays it like a in a movie script.

Here are some short excerpts from both stories to display the difference:

Introducing a ‘System’ In the Both Stories

Before choosing a story to create mock-ups, a more storyboard like but written version of stories has been written. This time stories are being separated into more simplified action steps like pieces and a ‘vague’ system has been defined under each action.

Looking at the steps of each story and what can a system do to enable it gave inspiration and also made the decision easier for creating a mock-up.

Here are some example actions and system from both stories:

Creating a Mock-Up from Emmy’s Story

In the end, a mock-up being created being inspired by Emmy’s story and experiences. The collaborative story has been chosen over Adam’s story because it had more insights that we can later design and evaluate a product better to see if the digital product helps to enable positive experiences. Still, Adam’s story is a source of inspiration and in future work, more ideas can be integrated into this current direction.

That being said here are screens from our low-fidelity mock-up with the connection from each step of Emmy’s story. They are being ordered after each other so a clear step of the story can be seen first before the low-fidelity design attempt to enable that experience.

Each screen has been designed looking at a specific action of the story and some parts left less defined on purpose to leave room for improvement in future work.

1. Emmy joins the wider community of learners (‘Tribes of Learners’) using the system.

Emmy is a high school student in Ohio taking German classes because she plans to study in Germany after high school.

She used to enjoy and benefit a lot from practicing collectively in class and with her friends before. But recently she doesn’t talk to one of her best friends in the class and therefore she hesitates to engage with others. (need for the experience)

She normally enjoys using the target language and getting corrective feedback from a close friend, she got that idea from Netflix’s culture book which she listened to on Audible, and she learned the trick there that negative feedback when it comes to a constructive purpose really improves one’s performance. Since then she tries to apply this principle with her close friend in the class. (Inspiration)

Now that they don’t talk anymore and Emmy misses this honest feedback that she can’t get from others, also Emmy finds common language exchange places, so generic and boring. She feels like she can’t relate to others there and just getting feedback on her texts from other learners doesn’t create any excitement or motivate her to push through. She misses the practice with her friend.

But recently she discovered this place where people get together and form tribes and go on ‘learning’ journeys together (relatedness, group belonging, and security).

2. Emmy gets suggestion from the system of other newbie tribes that are forming now and didn’t do another mission yet. Joins one of them.

…While registering there she entered all of her personal goals and why she wants to learn German (linking personal values – motivation) in her profile. Besides that, she pointed out interesting areas to find like-minded people. Then magically she got matched (surprise element) with similar people with whom she can eventually become friends. They had similar interests and became at a similar level in the target language as a goal with similar reasons.

3. As a group, they pick their first mission together and set goals and how each one of them will contribute to the collective work.

…At the first challenge of the journey, they picked up collaboratively creating wiki pages, (collaborative practice) which later would really contribute to existing wiki projects at some point.

4. They start creating pages with videos, images, audios, stickers, gifs and interactive elements all together.

…They let everyone in the group contribute to the creation in the way they like, some did translations, some recorded audios, some created pictures (everyone participating in their own way.)

5. They leave feedback to each others creations and strengthen them by checking references.

…Also, they had the chance of a public discussion page like a real wiki where they could give feedback to work being created so both improve the work and learn from each other.

6. Emmy discovers other missions and practices outside of the main wiki creation mission.

…While contributing to create those pages Emmy discovered a lot of useful content in Germany which can also support her design career when she moves there in the future. She started translating those interesting articles and taking notes of language learning pieces (a concept idea?) which she can practice later and also if she wants, share publicly attached to the created page. When she gets stuck, or curious about if there is a better way to form a sentence in German, in that kind of situation she could leave comments open to others so they can fill in what she missed and give the feedback she wanted at the beginning (a concept idea?).

7. During one of their group work Emmy becomes close friends with Sarah and they start doing their own focused work sessions with Pomodoro timer and focus music where they also just talk about stuff in breaks.

…During group calls, she also becomes really close friends with Sarah, another participant, now Emmy thinks that she is like her close friend from the classroom. They started talking outside of group challenges and just practicing with each other. 

8. Emmy and Sarah later have their own session of live flashcard guessing game from the things they practiced together.

…Also, they did practice sessions like guessing flashcards and watching a study with me video together (Relatedness).

9. Once creating a page Emmy gets a hard sentence right and system gives a memento of this moment to display in her profile

…Finally, depending on the types of challenges, they all got little badges from those challenges which they can look at and remember the journey or also show the success to others. 

10. In the end of the mission they evaluate how it went and save their learning. Later they agree to start a new challenge next week.

… and then they evaluate the journey to reflect on their learning and also guide others who are going to do similar missions.

Conclusion & Next Steps 

In the end of this project we had a clear experience that we can aim for language learning with strategies at hand, following mock-ups are just one way to try it where any different ideas can use the same strategies as well.

Those are the planned next steps for this project to be done in following Bachelor Thesis work:

  • Having a look at all the findings again to refresh the memory,
  • Creating a prototype and iterating on it,
  • Testing the prototype to evaluate the experiences it enables,
  • Testing the prototype for it’s usability,
  • Writing a report on the whole experience and the prototype.

Hassenzahl, M. (2010). Experience Design: Technology for All the Right Reasons., DOI: 10.2200/S00261ED1V01Y201003HCI008

King, B. W. (2015). Wikipedia writing as praxis: Computer-mediated socialization of second-language writers. Language Learning & Technology, 19(3), 106– 123. Retrieved from

-Fan Su & Di Zou (2020): Technology-enhanced collaborative language learning: theoretical foundations, technologies, and implications, Computer Assisted Language Learning, DOI: 10.1080/09588221.2020.1831545

-Sheldon, K. M., Elliot, A. J., Kim, Y., & Kasser, T. (2001). What is satisfying about satisfying events? Testing 10 candidate psychological needs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80(2), 325-339. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.80.2.325



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