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In the Classroom

By the time they get to college, most students have gotten rid of their childhood toys. But in BYU Marriott’s Experience Design and Management (ExDM) program, professors encourage students to play with toys—in fact, it’s a requirement for one class.

When ExDM grad Amanda Everson from Maple Grove, Minnesota, signed up for ExDM 404: Experience Design with associate professor Mat Duerden, she was surprised to see that LEGO® kits were part of the curriculum. “I laughed when I saw a LEGO kit was on our booklist,” she says. Turns out, the LEGO projects became one of her favorite parts of class.

Professors have incorporated a teaching practice called LEGO Serious Play® into the curriculum for both undergrad and MBA experience design courses. “Using LEGO bricks, you give people a challenge, you have them build something, and then you have everybody share their models,” explains Duerden. “Abstract ideas change when we build concrete models or prototypes of those ideas; LEGO kits are an incredibly adaptable teaching tool.”

Students such as Everson enjoy incorporating LEGO kits in the classroom because the kits let students see their ideas in a different light. “The main reason for using the LEGO Serious Play kits is to inspire innovation,” says Everson. “If students can catapult creativity by using physical objects rather than trying to express their ideas with words or draw them on paper, the ideas become more tangible.”

One LEGO challenge Duerden posed in class was to find a way to improve an experience. Everson’s group redesigned the airline experience. Using blocks, wheels, LEGO® Minifigures, and other classic LEGO elements, students built rough visualizations of their ideas. Everson’s solution included giving passengers a warm cookie before their flight took off. Another idea was handing out goodie bags as passengers walked on the plane. All ideas were shared in rough LEGO form in Duerden’s judgment-free classroom.

Students such as Everson enjoy incorporating LEGO kits in the classroom because the kits let students see their ideas in a different light.

The class also includes more abstract challenges. One challenge Duerden gives students is to build a physical model of a quality they appreciate in a classmate. After a few minutes of building, students share their models with each other. “Some of the LEGO models were funny, and some held a lot of compassion and reality,” says Everson.

Using LEGO Serious Play methodology also helps visual learners look at the design-thinking process from a different perspective. As projects move from ideation to prototypes, visual representations can help teams discover flaws or new ideas. “Once you make an idea in three dimensions, you find yourself realizing, ‘That wouldn’t work,’ or ‘This would work well, but let’s move it over here,’ or ‘How can we combine them into one?’” says Everson.

While playing with toys in class may be discouraged in other places across campus, the experience design program’s unconventional teaching methodologies prepare students to think differently and embrace going back to the childlike state of mind where creativity flourishes.

“The ExDM program is teaching students things we can apply to any aspect of our lives and helping us come up with solutions to problems in a different way,” says Everson. “We’re realizing that we can be creative, we can innovate, and it doesn’t have to be difficult.”


Written by Natasha Ramirez