Play and learning

It has been clear since the company started in 1932 that the LEGO Group is committed to children’s creativity and to play and learning. A moment’s reflection on the company name says it all. We want children to LEge GOdt (English: Play Well). Over the past 30 years the LEGO Group has taken many initiatives in support of this desire.

System for learning

The Institution Department is set up in 1980. It will handle the company’s relations with preschool and educational institutions. Just as the LEGO® brick is a system of play, it will also be part of a system of learning. The department works on the design of LEGO products suitable for educational situations. In 1989, the department changes its name to LEGO Dacta, which later becomes LEGO Educational Division until it adopts the name it has today, LEGO Education. Being part of the LEGO Group, LEGO Education plays a decisive role in igniting pupil engagement in learning by giving them a hands-on experience that encourages learning through physical and digital creation.

Teaming up with MIT

In 1984, LEGO Owner and CEO Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen sees Seymour Papert, a professor of Learning Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, demonstrate his programming language for children, LOGO, on Danish television and arranges a meeting. The meeting between Seymour Papert and Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen is the start of a partnership between the LEGO Group and MIT. The first foreign-based department of LEGO Futura, the LEGO Group’s product-development department, is established in Boston in 1989 to create close links with MIT researchers.

When Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen contacts Seymour Papert in 1984, it turns out that Seymour Papert has also for some time wanted to meet Kjeld Kirk. The pair share many views on play and learning and quickly form a friendship. It is via thoughts such as Seymour Papert’s constructivism that the two hit it off.

"Constructivism means learning by making something. What you learn in the process of making things that you care about sinks much deeper, its roots go deeper into the subsoil of the brain than anything anyone can tell you."

Seymour Papert

Close collaboration between the LEGO Group and MIT results in 1998 in the launch of the product LEGO MINDSTORMS®. This new intelligent LEGO brick can be built together with other LEGO elements and then connected to a computer. This makes it possible to programme a MINDSTORMS model to carry out a series of tasks. The new product is a huge success and marks the entry of the LEGO Group and LEGO brick into the digital world.

LEGO Professors

Since 1989, three people have been appointed LEGO Professors. The appointment is accompanied by a sponsorship for the professor’s institute and a desire for greater collaboration with the LEGO Group.

In 1989, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen appoints the professor of learning, Seymour Papert, as LEGO Professor of Learning Research at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Boston, USA. The appointment is accompanied by a sponsorship for the institute. The sponsorship will be used for research into child’s play and development. Specifically, Seymour Papert and his team are working on the application of digital technology in children’s play.

In 1990 Prof. Xavier Gilbert, IMD (International Institute for Management Development), Lausanne, Switzerland, was appointed to the LEGO chair of International Business Dynamics. As in the case of appointment of the first LEGO Professor, Seymour Papert, the IMD professorship carries a sponsorship with it. The funding will be used to consolidate teamwork between the LEGO Group and IMD on development of the company’s business concepts and the international organization.

In 1999, another MIT professor, Mitch Resnick, is appointed LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research. Mitch Resnick succeeds his mentor, LEGO Professor Seymour Papert, who chooses in 1998 to retire. It has now become Mitch Resnick’s task, in collaboration with the LEGO Group, to carry on the work of improving educational systems and teaching methods.

The first LEGO® Professor; Seymour Papert

LEGO Learning Institute

In establishing the Institute in 2001, the LEGO Group directs the focus on children’s development, play and learning. The keyword is ‘playful learning’. The task is for the LEGO Learning Institute to provide academic research and conduct analysis into creativity, play, learning and child development. The objective is to build a network of internationally renowned researchers within different academic disciplines; to respect and nurture the way children play, learn, develop their creativity and thrive. The LEGO Learning Institute has an unparalleled access to a wealth of experience and expertise in play, learning and creativity, and aims to bring this collective knowledge and insight to new audiences. Externally, this provides the opportunity to communicate the value of playful learning and creativity, but also to convene leading academics in sharing the mission and values. Internally, this engagement provides an opportunity to use academic research to develop better products, services and experiences that are true to the LEGO values. In 2012, the LEGO Learning Institute becomes part of the LEGO Foundation.

The LEGO Foundation was originally founded in 1986 adopting its current name in 1991. Its first activities are centered on donations and training benefitting underprivileged children around the world. In recent years, the LEGO Foundation has changed its strategic focus to, primarily; promote the various aspects of “Learning through play”.

LEGO Serious Play®

LEGO Serious Play uses LEGO elements as a 3D communication tool to tackle abstract and complex problems, thus helping business leaders to obtain a better overview of organization and strategy. A session of Serious Play stretches the imagination of its participants.

The idea for LEGO Serious Play arises from development of LEGO strategy in the 1990s. In 1994 Johan Roos and Bart Victor of IMD business school in Switzerland develop the idea of Serious Play together with LEGO Owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen. Many attempts are made between 1995 and 1999 to develop the idea – but without success. In 1999, Robert Rasmussen of LEGO Dacta is asked to work on the idea and thinking behind it and from 1999 to 2003, he develops the LEGO Serious Play method as it is now applied.

LEGO® Serious Play® session, 2002

LEGO VisionLab

In January 2003 the company sets up LEGO VisionLab, a unit for examining the future, to co-ordinate and derive maximum benefit from knowledge in a variety of specialized areas. The core resource at VisionLab is a team of 12 people from six countries. Most are researchers in the fields of architecture, design, philosophy, sociology, anthropology and technology. One of the challenges is to render the research suitable for future product development. The chosen methods are workshops, brainstorming, dialogue and debate. LEGO VisionLab comprises three departments: The actual future-research arm VisionLab, LEGO Learning Institute, and LEGO Serious Play. LEGO VisionLab is discontinued in 2004 as a consequence of the company’s economic crisis. LEGO Learning Institute and LEGO Serious Play continue in new constellations.