A stack of Lego bricks, 7 rows high. Bricks are offset from each other with no gaps. There are blue bricks, yellow bricks and thinner light blue and purple bricks interlinked and distribute mixed.

Metaphors of learning design: LEGO

Metaphor and analogy are both powerful ways to convey complex concepts, representing ideas in different ways that better relate to individuals prior knowledge or contexts. Though sometimes metaphors and analogies can be just plain confusing. In this post, I’m having a little fun for a change and will attempt to convey curriculum and learning design through the medium of LEGO (other stackable bricks are available).

Building blocks

Let’s start by thinking of a curriculum as building blocks of content and activities. These might be individual tasks, units of study, modules or even full programmes represented by a block.


Typically, though not always, these blocks of learning are sequenced into an order. There may be dependencies, progression from the first block to the next block. There are connections between these blocks reflecting this progression. These connections may be constrained within themes, or activities that chain together towards an outcome. The example below shows this with three distinct themes, however as a whole, the learning experience is disconnected.


With a shift in design, it’s possible to interlink these themes, build progression across the blocks of learning to create a coherent whole. This is reflected here in the horizontal and vertical links now made between blocks.

Knowledge gaps

The learning experience can be measured in a number of ways, for example success against learning outcomes, application of learning, level of collaboration, meaningfulness. The strength of the learning experience may be influenced by how gaps in learning are addressed. These gaps may arise through learners not fully understanding foundation concepts, rippling further gaps further up as learning progresses. If these gaps exist in critical places, new knowledge has a less than ideal foundation, may not be built upon or have weaker connections. Gaps may also be known and identified in advance through learning design, to be purposefully addressed through teaching. The representation below reflects gaps between interconnected learning blocks.

A wall of blue Lego bricks with noticeable gaps, indication of instability.

Making connections

Learning is about connections, or rather at least that is one of my interpretations of what learning is. In constructivist pedagogy, learning builds on prior knowledge and is contextual to learners’ individual background and experiences. Designing learning from this perspective provides an opportunity to explicitly connect new knowledge with experience and prior learning. Constructivist pedagogy invites learners to be active participants in learning, so their contributions and internalisation of what they are learning forms their understanding. This is illustrated below with the yellow (lighter blocks) representing an individual learners’ contribution (their prior learning, experience and ideas) within the scaffold of the learning design and teaching shown in blue (darker blocks).

Lego bricks arranged in three rows, mainly blue bricks interlinked with no gaps and with four yellow bricks intermixed to create a wall.

Social learning

Social constructivism, social learning and related pedagogies and frameworks are those that lead to a learning design for interaction, dialogue and co-construction. Learning from the contributions of others and learners playing an active role in contributing to the whole are part of the learning experience. The educator is not the sole owner of knowledge nor sole director of learning, but they facilitate learning from others and learning from experience. This is represented here through the incorporation of many perspectives, experiences and knowledge from others (shown through multiple colours of blocks). This approach sets learners up to be learning beyond programmes of study, developing the skills to learn from others, reflect on experience and continue to develop.

A stack of Lego bricks, 7 rows high. Bricks are offset from each other with no gaps. There are blue bricks, yellow bricks and thinner light blue and purple bricks interlinked and distribute mixed.

Our learning and understanding continues to be built throughout our lives in a complex mix of formal, structured education and informal, incidental learning experiences.

Redefining the building block

As a final thought, with each learner bringing their experience, thoughts and knowledge, there are a few ways to bring these together. For example, there may be a foundation of formal education from which independent or collaborative learning experiences extend (illustrated on the left as different bricks built on top of one dark blue brick). Alternatively, an educator might plan to start by identifying prior learning to begin with, then building upon it with the designed teaching or some form of consolidation, such as a capstone project (the formation of bricks on the right, with the dark blue block of formal education connecting together the smaller blocks underneath).

Two groups of Lego bricks. On the left a blue brick on the bottom with on top a yellow brick half size of the blue, and two thinner bricks of different colours. On the right, a blue brick on top joins together the yellow brick and thinner bricks of other colours.

In the above examples the basic building block of learning (dark blue block) has been defined by the educator, but these examples offer possibilities for redefining curriculum and learning experiences as co-designed or responsive to learners. Instead of the single brick as the unit of building from, a co-designed approach would have the basic building block of learning bring together both educator and learner knowledge, interpretation and experience.

Further ideas

That’s just my interpretation of the use of LEGO to represent learning and learning designs. I’m keen to read your suggestions. Post a comment below!

For further reading and listening about the use of metaphors in digital education, Martin Weller’s podcast series and book Metaphors of Ed Tech are worth exploring.






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