What Can LEGO Teach the Instructional Designer?

It’s a few days after Christmas and my kids have opened all their toys and the wrapping paper has been thrown away. So of course, the kids want to get all their toys out of the box and play with them. My 5 year old daughter decides to make one of the little LEGO sets she got.


Picture of two building block sets.
Other Set on the Left, LEGO on the Right

So here’s a picture of two of the sets, the one on the right is by LEGO, the one on the left is not.  The LEGO set she put together herself, the one on the left she didn’t even attempt, but instead, asked me to do it.  So what’s the difference? Instructions. LEGO instructions are exemplars of good instructional design, mainly because the adhere pretty closely to Mayer’s Multimedia Principles as much as print can.  Consider these three principles:

  • Coherence Principle – People learn better when extraneous words, pictures and sounds are excluded rather than included.
  • Signaling Principle – People learn better when cues that highlight the organization of the essential material are added.
  • Segmenting Principle – People learn better from a multimedia lesson is presented in user-paced segments rather than as a continuous unit.

It’s common, I suppose, to think of instructional design as something that is computer based. But as someone who has a few decades of teaching experience, instructional design is more than e-delivery. E-learning has it’s roots in face to face design. In my opinion, all the technological “good practices” we use, are ways to compensate for some of e-learnings inherent weaknesses. Print has the added weakness of not being interactive, so it’s even more critical that you use good design practice.

Putting together a LEGO set
LEGO Instructions Make it Easy.

Don’t just think of Mayer’s Multimedia Principles as something strictly for computer delivered learning. And if you teach face to face think about what works well in the classroom, and how it can be translated to e-learning. Remember, as an instructional designer your goal is to give the learner the skills or information they need in the most efficient way. And if you have to design step by step process training then take a look at some LEGO instructions.

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