Lessons from LEGO®: Training Techniques to Encourage Learning
For my son’s 5th birthday, he got his first “real” LEGO set. Since it was for ages 5-12, I put it on my mother-son project list. My son, however, decided to tackle it alone one day taking 309 LEGO pieces and turning them into a perfectly wonderful airplane – with only one adult coaching intervention!
So, what does LEGO do (that we can use when developing training programs) to help someone learn to transform that pile of 309 plastic LEGO pieces into a plane? Here are the strategies I noticed.
- Create desire. The box, cover, commercials, and television programs make the kids WANT to participate in the learning experience. We can create desire in a course by helping a learner see what they will learn in the course and how it will help them. The “WIIFM” may encourage the learner to take the necessary time to learn concepts.
- Create the learning culture. It’s easy to think of LEGOS as just a toy, but there is a whole LEGO culture that goes along with it. (Check out The Cult of LEGO by Joe Meno.) We can create this same type of culture by creating courses that have themes, tell stories, or involve an ongoing game.
- Create a clear objective. The “objective” with a LEGO set to create the object pictured. LEGO doesn’t come out and say, “By the end of this 3-hour session, you will create an airplane with the pieces provided.” But the desired outcome is clear. We can (and should) let the learner clearly know what they will learn by the end of the course.
- Chunk the learning into manageable, logical pieces. A box of 309 pieces could be overwhelming. So LEGO projects are separated into different bags. In this graphic, you can see that one bag of pieces creates the bottom of the plane, the next creates the top, and the last bag creates the tail. This makes the project manageable and adds rewards along the way. In our courses, too much information can be overwhelming. As designers, we want to chunk the material into logical pieces.
- Break down the steps graphically. LEGO uses photos labeled only with numbers and letters in their instruction manual in a way that lets a 5-year-old make sense of 309 pieces. When we are creating courses, can we find or create an image (picture, diagram, table) that explains something more simply than screens of text or narration?
- Let students learn by doing. My son didn’t learn how to put the plane together just by reading the manual or from my telling him what to do. He learned by trying it himself. An e-reading course, where the student’s only interaction with the content is clicking the next button, just isn’t enough.
- Give immediate feedback. It doesn’t take long with a LEGO project to know if you are doing it right. When things don’t match or don’t line up, it’s obvious. In learning, you can do the same thing. Don’t let the learner get too far with practice before you give feedback. Branching scenarios in an e-learning course are great ways to allow learners to make decisions and then give them the feedback they need quickly.
- Encourage learners to explore. Once a LEGO project is complete, the airplane doesn’t have to stay an airplane; it becomes a car, a spaceship, a building. The builder uses the concepts learned while building the plane (such as how the pieces go together, which pieces support which pieces, etc.) and applies them to the new goal. Want to help make sure learners transfer their newly found knowledge back on the job? Give them an assignment when they return to work that encourages them to use the concepts and techniques they just learned.
- Make reference materials easy to find. After the airplane has been transformed a death-defying racing machine, it might need to go back to an airplane. But what if the instruction manual is long gone? LEGO does a great job of making reference materials available on their website and iPhone app. Our learners need the same thing. When they get stuck or when they need a refresher, we can provide clear and easily-accessible materials.
This summer, my son is going to work through a LEGO homeschool curriculum. If I find any other techniques they use, I’ll let you know!