The Future of 3D Printing and Young People

by Cameron Williams on December 07, 2021

The current maker movement and education are historically linked through philosophies of learning. The constructivist theories of Dewey, Piaget and Vygotsky see learners construct knowledge and understanding through play and experimentation. For maker education, Seymour Papert’s constructionism evolves this idea so that learning is constructed through the making of something tangible and shareable.

Informal learning environments like public libraries, museums and non-profit organisations have been demonstrating how workshops using 3D modelling and printing with young children provide a rich, participatory learning experience (Turner et. al., 2017). Children are able to engage with a wide range of subject matter in a hands-on, exploratory fashion. Projects like these show young people have a huge capacity to grasp the technical aspects of digital fabrication technologies.

So, what opportunities are presented by 3D printing for the educational realm?

  • 3D technologies have been shown to better support the development of young people’s technological literacy compared to screen-based learning
  • It exercises their creativity, motivation, critical thinking and collaboration
  • Develops important foundational STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) skills
  • Teaches ‘Design thinking’ (Horvath and Cameron, 2020) and process work as learners practice specifying requirements, analysing methods to achieve them, and constructing a meaningful final object. This builds students’ confidence, problem-solving skills and resilience when things inevitably don’t succeed first time around.

Here are some factors to consider when bringing a 3D printer into your classroom:

  • Lower-cost filament FDR printers are typically more accessible for schools
  • With 3D printing each layer requires time to cool before the next can be applied. For this reason it is a relatively slow process for teachers to navigate around lesson schedules and whole classes of students. Some logistical solutions include doing group projects, having students design small objects and printing in batches, and splitting classes for the modelling stages.
  • CAD tools are available for younger makers. Tinkercad is a free, web-based option. Morphi is downloadable for a low price per student. Learning to use CAD programmes is a valuable C21st skill, even if your school does not have access to a 3D printer.
  • Keep it simple by discussing basic design constraints such as having a large, flat base and not making any features too small, and have visual aids showing the correct way to design a printable item.
  • Encourage curiosity, experimentation and a growth-mindset
  • Very young children can begin their journey of invention by prototyping ideas with found and recycled materials (Becker and Jacobsen, 2020).

There are a huge number of useful resources out there to help educators bring elements of maker culture into schools. Start exploring and get inspired to bring the tools of the future into your classroom. Here are just a few:



Becker, S and Jacobsen, M (2020) ‘Becoming a Maker Teacher: Designing Making Curricula that Promotes Pedagogical Change’ Frontiers in Education 5.83 Horvath, J. and Cameron, R. (2020) Mastering 3D Printing: a guide to modelling, printing and prototyping, 2nd edn. Apress, Berkeley C.A Turner, H., Resch, G., Southwick, D., McEwen, R., Dube, A. and Record, I. (2017) Using 3D Printing to Enhance Understanding and Engagement with Young Audiences: Lessons from Workshops in a Museum. Curator: The Museum Journal 60 (3) pp.311-333