Wednesday, April 18, 2012

LEGO IDEA Conference, Denmark 2012

What an amazing array of speakers with such interesting perspectives and insights!  The LEGO IDEA conference is held each year to emphasise the importance of play - play to learn, play to create and play to innovate.

First speaker was Nicolai Molkte-Leth, founder of True North Camps, Denmark.  He reminded the conference that:
"The greatest danger for most of us is not that we aim too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it"
So, out of fear, we make our goals more average and when they are average, we are not inspired.  We could play life in a higher league.  We should be dreaming of a possible future and when we imagine it, we can create it.
He encouraged everyone to get out of the comfort zone.  When we hit the outer wall of the comfort zone, we hit our habits and our beliefs.  But that is where the learning zone is.  If you step too far you get in to panic zone.  But you can make a panic zone in to a comfort zone if you take small steps to reach there.

Highlight for me was Sugata Mitra, Prof of educational technology at the school of education Newcastle Uni, UK.  Look for him on TED Talks.  He spoke about the future of learning and posed the key statement -
"With broadband access to google you can pretend to be educated."
He has conducted substantial experiments over the past years to identify why when you live further out from the city, the quality of education falls dramatically and why when you are in a lower socio-economic category, the quality is also lower.
The hole in the wall experiment took off.  He wanted to explore what would happen if you give children in a slum a computer.  He built a sort of ATM in the wall of a very poor suburb in India.  Children started to browse on the computer.  They did not know English and had never heard of the internet.  Wherever the experiment was tried, children would start playing games.  When Prof Mitra returned 9 months, they then asked for a faster processor and better mouse.  They taught themselves English in order to use the tool.  In 9 months, children learnt how to use the computer according to what an average office worker could do.
 Conclusion -
 When children have interest, education happens.  Groups of children using the Internet can achieve educational objectives on their own.  Children learn best in self organised learning environments.

How far can this type,of self organisation go? asked the Prof.
Can they teach themselves the biotechnology of DNA?  He set up an experiment designed to fail.
He downloaded information on to the computers about this complex medical topic.  He put it in English and they could not speak English.  He pre-tested them and they understood nothing.  He left them for two months. 
They did not give up on it.  They in fact went up 30% in terms of knowledge and English use.  In the English system however, they would still have been seen as a failure.
So He sent a teacher in to tell them how fantastic they are = the grandmother method as they tell us how wonderful we are.
Scores jumped to 60 percent . 
There is a way to level the playing fields in richer and poorer areas and the 'granny cloud' system for schools is still used where the granny volunteers are beamed in via skype to disadvantaged communities.

Groups of children can learn anything by themselves. Provided they can read and understand what they read and that they know how to believe in their potential.
We need questions which turn people on.  Children work in a domain where they want relevance. 
The curriculum is seen as uninteresting and irrelevant.  Exams are seen as uninteresting and relevant to get a job.
If your education system sits in those two boxes, you are doomed to failure.
Children love the interesting and irrelevant quadrant.  Humans love this.  Move education in to that box and then you have made it.  Education will be something that just happens.  How do we move in to that box? This is where the future of learning lies!

If we extrapolate this to the adult learning environment, there are also some very useful insights in terms of how we deliver training programs. It places the emphasis far more strongly on groups that are self-organised and that teach themselves.

Mads Nipper, EVP of the LEGO group spoke on Cultures of creativity.

How does creativity in different cultures work?
The learning institute has done substantial research in to the future of learning and also the cultures of learning.  The founders of Google played with a lot of bricks that could have inspired them when they were young.
Technology is such a huge revolution.  Because there is a digital world, will the physical bricks vanish?   
Mads says - No as it is hands on and minds on!
How do we put all of this creativity in to the global context?   Think about the notion of systematic creativity = Make sense of the world through using the tools of the bricks. They are an interconnected set of parts.  Everyone can put the bricks together in different ways so that it means something to someone.
There are low entry levels.  Anyone can get started no matter of cultural background.  People know what to do even if they have never seen a brick before.
The bricks are a medium for mastery.  We never cease to be amazed by what can be built.
They give us the ability to create something out of nothing.  The building with bricks supports children in a culture of making things.  Most children around the world have nothing.
It has infinite possibilities. It is about something where you can combine and integrate ideas. 
LEGO provides the belief in the potential of children and adults and their natural imagination.  Playfulness is a basis for cultural development.  The more things that are playful to express a culture, the better.
There is a belief in the value of creative play.  Dreams and imagination is important and creative play is an expression of cultural values.
Playing with LEGO bricks provides an environment of experimentation.  It allows different ideas to be tried out and experimented with.  This in turn encourages a culture of experimenting and allows for failure.  This is universally valuable.
Play through the bricks grows with the person and Lego grows socially beyond the person.  It bridges cultures to empower communities of creativity and collaboration.
Creativity and play is culture.  For all cultures.

Closing keynote was on - The meaning of innovation.  Turning STEM in to STEAM.
John Maeda - President Rhode Island School of Design.  John is the most brilliant man who has remarkable insights.
"Blast away at it! Get it done!",  William J Mitchell.  Don't think, just make it.  Don't think too hard and just jump in. He said that we live in such a world of VUCA - volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.  We need the antidote of insight, understanding and clarity and agility. 
We need all kinds of thinking to help each other.  People are now crossing boundaries all the time - Designers and scientists.  We no longer should be thinking out of the box - we need to be thinking at the edge of the box because in that way we can integrate thinking from different spheres
It is up to us to play well.  
Have a look at his website - for more insights in to how breakthrough innovation comes from adding art and design to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and research: STEM + Art = STEAM.
Jacquie Llyod Smith and LEGO® Legend Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen

Besides the conference, we were also treated to a fascinating tour of the LEGO museum that stores the organisation's history.  LEGO is still a family owned business and has a strong and proud history from humble beginnings as toy makers of wooden toys.  There was then the move in to using the plastic moulding machines - but not to create full plastic toys but rather to create bricks that children would use to build their own toys.  There were many nay-sayers around 1947 who said that plastic would never be as good as wood.

"Our strength comes from concentrating on the idea.  Dig deep, range wide - and the ideas will come." Godtfred Kirk Christiansen  1965, second generation owner of Lego.
LEGO has as its mission to "nurture the child in each of us."

LEGO is the only toy that is always right - because you made it!
The guiding principle of all their production is - only the best is good enough.  Is that not a remarkable credo to live by!