The LEGO Classroom: Where Everything is Awesome

PROVO, Utah – Dec 06, 2019 –

By the time college starts, most students have gotten rid of their childhood toys. But for 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 junior Amanda Everson from Maple Grove, Minnesota signed up for EXDM 404: Experience Design with associate professor Mat Duerden, she was surprised to see LEGO kits were part of the curriculum. “I laughed when I saw a LEGO kit was on our book list,” she says. Turns out, the LEGO projects have become one of her favorite parts of class. 

For several undergrad and graduate experience design courses, professors have incorporated a teaching practice called LEGO Serious Play Methodology into their curriculum. “Using LEGO bricks, you give people a challenge, you have them build something, and then you have everybody share their models,” says Duerden. “Abstract ideas change when we build concrete models or prototypes of those ideas—LEGO kits are an incredibly adaptable teaching tool.” 

Students like Everson enjoy incorporating LEGO kits in the classroom because they let them see their ideas in a different light. “The main reason for using the LEGO Serious Play Kit 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 on paper, the idea becomes more tangible.” 

One LEGO challenge Duerden posed in class was to find a way to improve an experience. Everson’s group chose to redesign the airline experience. Using blocks, wheels, mini-figures, 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 included handing out goodie bags as passengers walk on the plane. All ideas were shared in rough LEGO form in Duerden’s judgment-free classroom. “We're in a safe, vulnerable space. It doesn't matter what the LEGO design looks like as long as you can come up with the why afterwards,” says Everson. 

Duerden also incorporates more abstract challenges to students. One challenge Duerden posed to Everson’s class was for students to build a physical model of a quality they appreciated in a classmate. After a few minutes of building, students shared 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. 

Everson enjoys creating models with LEGO kits, but what brought her to the experience design field is her interest in creating intentional experiences for people. “The world is changing to where people want experiences,” she says. “People want something more than just a cup of coffee; that's why they go to Starbucks. People want something more than just watching a movie; that's why they go to a drive-in movie theater.” BYU Marriott’s experience design major’s unconventional teaching methodologies prepare students such as Everson to think differently and embrace creative ideas. 

While playing with toys in class may be discouraged other places across campus, BYU Marriott’s experience design program embraces going back to the childlike state of mind where creativity flourished. “The EXDM program is teaching students things we can apply to any aspect of our life and helping us to 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.” 

Duerden and group designing a LEGO model
Mat Duerden and group designing a LEGO model using the LEGO Serious Play kit.
Student with LEGO model
EXDM student with her LEGO Serious Play model.

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Natasha Ramirez