Makerspaces have been growing in the United States and are now commonly found in libraries, museums, schools, community centers, and other public spaces. The creativity, innovation, passion, engagement, and sense of fun demonstrated by users of these spaces seem to prove that good learning is happening. While few might have doubts about this statement, researchers seek to provide empirical evidence and more detailed explanations of how learning occurs in these spaces. A recent study investigated three makerspaces and described how participants learned in these spaces and what made these spaces unique for learning.
The researchers observed three makerspaces over a year. While all three makerspaces provided popular maker activities such as digital media production and electronic circuitry, each of them had different target audiences and focused on different aspects of learning. Sector67, a makerspace aimed at adults, provided metal work and motorized vehicles, and prepared participants to learn specialized tools and skills; Mr. Elliot Makerspace served primarily youth, and organized learning around themes including a transportation theme that allowed participants to work on bike repair and customization; The Makeshop at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh encouraged engagement in the making process and exploration of new materials for families and children.
Despite these differences, the researchers found that common learning principles applied across all three learning spaces. The learning activities presented in all these spaces were multidisciplinary, which facilitated innovation and engagement. The learning happened while and because participants were focused on making; participants gained new skills and understanding in the process of making, and the passion to create pushed them to find new solutions and to learn more about relevant topics. All of these makerspaces also presented a hybrid model of learning arrangements. Participants could learn from structured workshops, spontaneous peer-supported learning groups, or self-directed solo projects.
This study confirms that makerspaces are fun and engaging, but also make for effective learning spaces. These design and learning principles could be helpful for educators interested in running makerspaces more successfully, and could also provide a useful template for the next wave of innovation in education.
Sheridan, K. M., Halverson, E. R., Litts, B. K., Brahms, L., Jacobs-Priebe, L., & Owens, T. (2014). Learning in the making: A comparative case study of three makerspaces. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), 505–531.Image: by Mitch Altman via Flickr