MAET Design Series: Brainstorming Possibilities


We love to brainstorm! This is probably an understatement if you know us, so please allow us to emphasize it: we love to brainstorm! Whether we’re brainstorming around a challenge that has emerged, a creative vision that one of us has dreamt up, costumes for Halloween, or an idea to streamline a process, we have finely tuned our collaborative brainstorming to become a fluid process that is truly a thing of beauty. We spend chunks of time ideating and iterating as we develop and refine learning experiences, so developing our brainstorming beliefs and skills allows it to be an efficient and fruitful practice. If you were a fly on the wall as we were actively brainstorming as a team, we think you’d observe a choreographed brainstorming dance that unfolds very quickly and wraps up before you can potentially find the beat. Because of the time we’ve invested, and how much we’ve practiced, our brainstorming sometimes happens quite quickly. We’d like to share our beliefs and actions that have helped us get to this stage of collaborative brainstorming with our team of three people.

Our Brainstorming Beliefs

  • We share a common goal and priority to provide the best learner experience we can.
  • With this goal in mind, we don’t get overly attached to ideas, or concerned with whose idea is whose (in fact, that line gets pretty blurry in our collaborative process)!
  • We have a mutual understanding of quality that has explicitly been defined and revisited over the years.
  • We have developed safety and trust as a team.
  • We are open to pushback and believe that constructive feedback makes it better. The work we do is meant to be shared. 
  • We believe nothing is ever done. Everything can be better.
  • We spend the time needed to do the iterative work.
  • We know and value the different strengths we all bring to our brainstorming.

Our Brainstorming Actions

  • Develop safety and trust
  • Start with a question or problem and ask more questions
    • “How could we…”
    • “What would it look like if…”
  • Get data
    • Feedback from students (mid-semester, end-of-course, holistic student experience feedback)
    • Instructors emails/ideas
    • Research, subject matter experts
  • Someone starts
    • Get the idea out on “paper” and go from there
    • The idea doesn’t need to be complete to start, it usually isn’t
  • Use “yes, and
    • Say “yes, and”
    • Do “yes, and”
  • Round-robin rely on each others’ strength
    • Value the power of individual perspectives and expertise
    • Acknowledge contributions
    • Mark up the drafts!
  • Take time to finesse and iterate
    • Spend that time
    • Let it simmer when it needs to simmer

Our brainstorms often begin with small steps, but once we get rolling often involve large leaps. When we start with an idea, we realize the end result may not be anything like the original one and we’re aware that there will be more bad ideas than good ones. We actively practice removing our ego as new ideas emerge…because it’s really hard to let go of your ideas. The process and end results lead to something greater than what we initially imagined which benefits our learners and that is what we care most about.

How is this enacted? Let’s say one of us is working on developing or revising a course and we get stuck while creating a learning experience. We know there’s a better way to approach the content and we can’t quite get there on our own. Realizing we may have reached the limit of our creativity or expertise, we might send a chat message to our other two teammates or use 5 minutes during our next team meeting to brainstorm. The other two teammates chime in with ideas. We may let it simmer and come back to it a few days later. We build a draft and then we might ask for feedback on the idea and we move forward from there.

All of these beliefs and actions are more complex than what can be summarized in a single blog post, but we hope you enjoyed an overview of our core brainstorming process. If you worked with your brainstorm buddy or team to define your brainstorming beliefs, what would they be?

The Student Perspective

Morgan Abb, MAET’s Student Advisory Council Representative shares her take on MAET’s focus on the learner: 

Brainstorming appears as a key learning experience within each MAET course. Our iterative approach to creating always starts with a brainstorming session. This is conducted in various ways- quick fire activities, sharing thought processes through Flip videos, or simply a first draft creation. Brainstorming with peers is welcome and encouraged through the use of various communication platforms, and thoughtful feedback from instructors helps brainstorms take form in a final creation.

Pending final approval from Michigan State University, Team MAET is launching a Master of Arts in Learning Experience Design in Fall 2024. Join our mailing list to receive news about our upcoming learning experience design opportunities.