Research Output
Constructing Active Learning Experiences
  There are many methods for stimulating Active Learning in the Higher Education classroom. Active Learning occurs when higher-order thinking is invoked during learning events, prompting spontaneous analysis, synthesis, and evaluation in participants (Bonwell & Eison, 1991). Play-based learning is a common concept in early-years education, but is little-studied in adult and Higher Education contexts (Nerantzi & James, 2015). Sicart (2014) describes play as a mechanism for “understanding the world and, through that understanding, challenging the establishment, leading to knowledge, and creating new ties or breaking old ones” (p. 18).

Lego Serious Play is a relatively new instructional method in Higher Education that facilitates a playful student-centred learning environment (James, 2013). Through the build-share-reflect cycle and the use of metaphor it supports student discussion about complex ideas and the relationship between them, and can also be used to explore identity and foster understanding between individuals (McCusker, 2014). It is a particularly powerful technique when applied to supporting the exploration or consolidation of learning of threshold concepts (Barton and James, 2017).

In Library instruction, sessions on referencing and plagiarism have a reputation for being both passive and boring. However, Lego has been used in a playful way to assist students in understanding how their work is ‘constructed’ using the ideas and research of others (Buckley, 2015).

This presentation explores the use of Lego construction toys as a playful mechanism for encouraging Active Learning and shares our experiences using Lego as an instructional tool in a variety of Higher Education settings. The purpose of this session is to share our practice and to encourage colleagues to reflect on how playful activities can improve student learning.


Barton, Graham, and James, Alison (2017). Threshold concepts, LEGO SERIOUS PLAY and whole systems thinking: Towards a combined methodology. Practice and Evidence of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Special Issue: Threshold Concepts and Conceptual Difficulty 12:2, 249-271. Retrieved from 09/11/2017
Bonwell, Charles C., and Eison, James A. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1. Washington, D.C.: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development. Retrieved from: 09/11/2017
Buckley, Carina (2015). Conceptualising plagiarism: Using Lego to construct students' understanding of authorship and citation, Teaching in Higher Education, 20:3, 352-358, doi: 10.1080/13562517.2015.1016418
James, Alison (2013). Lego Serious Play: A three-dimensional approach to learning development. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education Issue 6 Retrieved from 09/11/2017
McCusker, Sean (2014). Lego® Serious Play™: Thinking about teaching and learning. International Journal of Knowledge, Innovation and Entrepreneurship 2 (1): 27—37
Nerantzi, Chrissi, and James, Alison (2015). A waterfall of questions: Or can we afford to not to play in HE?. Creative Academic Magazine. 2:A, 4-5. Retrieved from: 09/11/2017
Sicart, M. (2014). Playful thinking series: Play matters (Playful thinking Play matters). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    17 January 2018

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    LB2300 Higher Education

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    378 Higher education

  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Garden, C., & Ennis, L. (2018, January). Constructing Active Learning Experiences. Presented at ALIEN (Active Learning In Edinburgh Napier) Staff Conference, Edinburgh Napier University, Craiglockhart Campus



Active Learning, Lego, Play, Higher Education

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