Experiential Learning and Gaming for teaching Operations Management: Balancing the Line of a Lego Space Ship

Dr Roberta Bernardi, School of Management

College Excellence Teaching Commendation 2017

I designed and delivered a gaming activity for my 2nd Year Undergraduate Course in Operations Management which enabled students to engage in a real-life experience, reflect upon their performance and achieve a better understanding of how their active experimentation linked to theory. The idea for introducing experiential learning in Operations Management arose from student feedback from previous years, which highlighted the need for a stronger understanding of how techniques taught in the course are used in real life. The reproduction of real-life situations with gaming is particularly suitable to teach applied operations management techniques and theories such as inventory management, manufacturing planning and control and supply chain management. The inspiration for this game in particular came from Ammar and Wright (2011) who adopted a Balancing Planes Game with Lego to teach line balancing and lean production.

Task outline

In the game students had to balance the assembly line of a Lego Space Ship. The learning objective of this game was to enhance students’ understanding of how to design and balance the manufacturing line of a product. Another key objective was to enhance students’ learning experience through “learning by playing”. The game was based on a calculation exercise meant to design the various elements of a manufacturing line (e.g., number of workstations and subdivision of tasks into workstations) and establish the efficiency of the line. Thus, students had to perform the same calculation to design and balance a “real” manufacturing line. Students were divided into teams and each team was assigned with the task of designing and balancing a manufacturing line to produce 12 Space Ships made with Lego in 5 minutes. Students were provided with instructional information including: a set of pictures of the Space Ship prototype and its assembly parts; a table showing the tasks to build a Space Ship; a set of detailed instructions to perform the game. After teams determined the right timing and sequence of tasks, they ran a simulation of the manufacturing process they had designed. Students were then asked to reflect upon what went wrong with their simulation and find solutions.

Lego space ship

Implementation and Challenges

The game session was delivered in the second week of the Spring term of 2017. The first challenge in the implementation of this game was represented by the large number of students. There are more than 300 students enrolled in the Operations Management course. Myself and another tutor delivered 10 workshops sessions each every week. Students in each workshop on line balancing were divided into groups and each group was given a Lego kit to build the Space Ship. In order to ensure consistency across all sessions, the other tutor and I had to test and time the activity before delivering it to the students.

The time available to run the session was 50 min, which can represent a challenge if students do not learn the calculations needed to do the game before coming to the workshop. To minimize this risk, I prepared a pre-workshop quiz on Moodle requiring students to use the same calculations to solve a similar line balancing problem. The quiz integrates some gamification elements: right answers are rewarded with a set of percentage points and each try, up to a maximum of three tries for each answer, has a penalty of 10%. Each wrong try is followed by a hint on how to solve the problem. Thus, students who did this activity before coming to the workshop had a better knowledge of the line balancing exercise and, therefore, could help their team-mates perform well in the game.

Student feedback

Students’ excitement as they engaged with the game was evident and they gave positive informal feedback about the activity. Next year I plan to include reflective activities before and after taking part in the game to monitor the achievement of learning outcomes. This might involve asking students to write a short reflective piece about what they expect to learn in the workshop and what they feel they have effectively learned through the game.



Ammar, S., & Wright, R. (2011). Balancing Planes.  Retrieved from



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