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There has been much written on the cognitive benefits of play for children, but what about a little playtime for adults? We're not talking about corporate recess or monkey-bar meetings (though, we're not opposed to them either), but instead the kind of creative collaboration and productivity benefits that can result from giving employees a chance to think outside of the box.

Take, for instance, technology company Ericsson who used Lego Mindstorm robots in a demonstration at the 2012 Mobile World Congress to show rather than tell how the Internet of Things could be used to connect in-home devices. This project was fun for both employees and audience members, as well as instructional. 

"Using robots in training programs to overcome challenges pushes participants out of their comfort zone," behavioral economist and data scientist Colin Lewis write on The Harvard Business Review. "It deepens their awareness of complexity and builds ownership and responsibility."

How Lego Mindstorm Came to Be 

Back in the late-90s, MIT Media Lab and Lego collaborated on building educational kits that could be used for innovation and training. Research from Seymour Papert, co-founder of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab, showed that training programs that implemented a robotic element had a strong impact on the participants' ability to learn numerous new skills as well as improved a team's collaboration and communication. Explains Lewis, "This form of learning is called constructionism, and it is premised on the idea that people learn by actively constructing new knowledge, not by having information ‘poured’ into their heads. People don’t get ideas; they make them." 

What a Lego Robot Course Looks Like

Training courses that use robotics start with a specific problem that needs solving. A program leader chooses the problem and breaks employees up into teams that are each presented with a box of building materials and simple programs for tablets and smartphones. The teams are given simple instructions and programming skills and then are set free to solve the assigned problem.

"They use software to plan, test, and modify sequences of instructions for a variety of robotic behaviors. And they learn to collect and analyze data from sensors, using data logging functionalities embedded in the software,” Lewis explains. “They gain the confidence to author algorithms, which taps critical thinking skills, and to creatively configure the robot to pursue goals." 

Photo credit: Can Stock