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The Maker Movement in Education: A New Global Transformation

(by Dr. Paul Kim, Chief Technology Officer & Assistant Dean, Stanford University Graduate School of Education)

© Flickr/Maker Festival Toronto

Dr. Paul Kim is the Chief Technology Officer and Assistant Dean of the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University. His global development projects include the design of new science and technology university for Oman, design of national online learning initiative for Saudi Arabia, and national e-portfolio system for public universities with the ministry of higher education, Mexico. 

The maker movement in education has been increasingly debated, with substantial theoretical justifications stemming from the pioneering work of leading education philosophers and theorists. From the view of constructionism to constructivism and from problem-based learning to experiential learning, the movement has been largely regarded by many educators as a part of efforts to bolster STEM (or STEAM with Arts) education efforts (Martin, 2015).

What is about to make the movement even more intriguing and relevant in education in the next several years include the recent advances in IoT (Internet of Things) and machine intelligence embedded in what used to be ordinary artifacts (e.g., from light bulbs with IP addresses to electrical outlets connected to big data analytics, and from smart diapers to smart prescription pill dispensers). New possibilities we probably never imagined in the last 500 years are now quickly becoming inevitable realities in the next 5 years. These trends, coupled with the digitization of manufacturing are not only creating a new wave of another industrial revolution (Anderson, 2012), but are also calling for a new cadre of people to fill jobs that never existed before. Therefore, the maker movement may not remain on the periphery, as we strive to address the many well-documented deficiencies of today’s schooling practices, but rather the maker spaces may soon be considered to be vital “whole education” hubs in schools of the near future.

Increasingly, maker spaces are viewed as the communities of practice in a tangible place designated for an interested group of people with diverse skills and talents to practice making (Halberson & Sheridan, 2014), and there is much enthusiasm among many colleagues who are advocating for the establishment of maker spaces as an integral community place for learning and empowerment (BodyComb et al., 2014). As a result of numerous trials and errors in the maker space movement globally, good practice suggestions are slowly emerging.  These may rely much on specific educational contexts and are too nuanced to generalize a set of unbending rules. Nonetheless, below are some brief suggested principles, to provide food for thought for anyone involved in the maker movement. They address the purpose, place, process, and partnership in creating maker spaces.

Purpose: It is not just about making things for the sake of making. – Many maker activities are organized around fabrication labs, where students are encouraged to explore and make things in order to learn about materials (e.g., construction or bonding materials), parts (e.g., LEDs, micro-computer boards), or equipment (e.g., 3D printers, 3D scanners, laser cutters) in the labs.  When students are exploring in a maker space for the first time, it is usually exciting, seeing an oddly-shaped artifact of their own creation built by a 3D printer, for example. Playfulness is important in exploration, and is vital for learning and experiencing. However, if one is establishing a maker space as an effective and sustainable learning environment, it would be prudent to provide stimulating objectives and maker challenges. For example, it is important to help the learner understand about design objectives, waste, and considerate practice. Also, an emphasis on sustainability and green design would be quite timely and appropriate. This will allow young students to learn to become more considerate and creative while handling and sharing limited resources. Another outcome would be that students become more aware of possible designs for a sustainable future.

The same goes for facilitators or coaches who are putting together learning activities and helping the learners. If maker activities are properly designed to integrate explicit eco-pedagogies for students to engage in problem-solving, critical thinking, creative designs, and entrepreneurship opportunities, the student would learn to take into account real-world constraints and important design principles, useful in tackling the grand challenges of tomorrow. 

Place: The focus of enabling a maker space should not be on obtaining the latest equipment, playing with the coolest tools, or using the most exotic materials. – Creating a maker space for educational purposes should focus on providing broad learning opportunities, not on purchasing the latest technologies or making high-precision products. What matters ultimately is not the quality of the tools and materials, but how well the creative coach puts together optimized learning opportunities.

In fact, the use of recycled materials aligns well with the green maker space idea, and also make the maker movement more possible in the developing regions. As an example, the parts used by the “Making Science Toys from Trash” group (Arvind, 2016) in India are not even close to what we may find in a typical maker space in developed countries. Yet, the learning that can occur by using materials found in a dumpsite (e.g., water bottles, rubber bands, metal parts, broken stereos, speakers etc.) is remarkable.

It would be ideal if more of the creative and contextualized inventions made by children from the developing regions can be exhibited to the students in western maker spaces and if there could be collaborations between these different worlds. With the growing penetration of mobile and social media networks in numerous parts of the developing world, a more inclusive maker space movement may become feasible. Exploring such a concept with a MOOC (Massive Open Online ‘Collaboration”) course could be one pathway to establishing such a global maker community. We could soon see a Facebook app that controls sensors and actuators of an invention made in remote labs, to share invention ideas, generate excitement, and collaborate cross-culturally and globally. A pre-cursor to this is the work of ROSE (Remotely Operated Science Experiment), which presents a way to cut across global socioeconomic layers and engage children to learn in the 21st century classroom (Song et al., 2015).

Process: Making activities should not be overly scripted. – When students are getting oriented and may not know what to make, it is useful to have them follow scripts to construct pre-defined products, perhaps those that they are familiar with or are featured in magazines. By following scripts, students can learn many things about the equipment involved or particular characteristics of the parts and materials. Nonetheless, when parents proudly marvel at the glittering products made by their children that are replicas of pre-existing items, they are not actually appreciating the creative minds of their children, but someone else’s innovations. While useful, if all maker activities are based on following step-by-step instructions, it would be hard to expect students to develop their creativity.

The most meaningful learning comes from dealing with challenging problems. When students are given an opportunity to devise solutions, they gain self-esteem and a greater sense of responsibility for their learning (Beetham and Sharpe, 2013; Waks, 1995). Thus, it is important to have students engage in carefully identifying needs, conducting research, building user empathy, and creative design thinking in the process of their making activities. This is not achieved by focusing on teaching, but by facilitating and supporting the student’s own investigating, designing, constructing, and reflecting processes.

Partnership: Never underestimate the power of collective question-storming in designing and making. – Students do not have to be thinking or making things alone in isolation. The power of collective inquiry and problem-solving can help students achieve much more than as individuals. In order to take full advantage of maker activities, it is helpful to have structured question-storming and design-based learning. Question-storming sessions involving questions such as “why not…”, “what if…”, “how about…” can spark breakthrough ideas (Berger, 2014) and designs throughout the iterative process of designing and making. In many design labs, colorful Post-Its are often found on every wall and available space. Questions and ideas are sorted, ranked, reflected, and frequently revised. Groups can also question-storm digitally in online spaces, opening up new opportunities for global, ongoing question-storming. One such online question-storming platform is SMILE (Stanford Mobile Inquiry-based Learning Environment), with both public and private spaces (see

The iterative process of Design-Based Learning (i.e., generating questions, designing experiments, collecting data, drawing conclusions, and communicating findings, which then leads to evolving the design) has been found to enhance participants’ reflective thinking and visualize their active thinking processes (Loh et al. 2001). This too, can be digitally based. As young students share a great deal of world phenomena through Instagram and Snapchat today, leveraging mobile applications in education should not be strange. Since smartphones are equipped with an array of sensors and applications to measure, record, and share data, pedagogies need to be updated to help students to use mobile devices wisely in documenting their solution-design processes or sharing their ideas and inventions to solicit crowd sourcing of new enhancement ideas from their peers (Kim et al., 2015) and global communities of inventors and makers.

No one can predict exactly how the maker movement will evolve in the next several years, but the sign of wide-spreading new industrial revolution is evident. At the forefront, the maker movement is fueling this revolution. Fresh innovative product ideas from maker spaces, as wild or strange as they may seem, get turned into real products with the help of crowdfunding (Nuwer, 2016) and various versions of Kickstarter funds are used to kick start more makerspaces in communities of all types.

Currently, many companies collaborate with design labs of leading universities for product development efforts but in the near future, leading companies will collaborate on communal maker spaces embedded in libraries and schools, and these efforts will be sustained by the rapid results in new ideas, products, and companies that arise from these spaces. These scenarios call for a paradigm shift in future schooling models, as we integrate making with learning. The above are just a few preliminary observations on maker communities in education, but we will learn much more as we witness maker spaces proliferating across diverse settings, and the maker movement continues to thrive in the educational ecosystem.


Anderson, C. (2010). Makers: The new industrial revolution. New Yok, NY: Randon House.

Beetham, H., & Sharpe, R. (Eds.). (2013). Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age: Designing for 21st century learning. London: Routledge.

Bodycomb, A., Brown, E., Kim, B., & Pinho, T. (2014). Makerspace Task Force Report.

Gupta, A. (2016). Toys from trash. Retrieved from

Kim, P., Suh, E., & Song, D. (2015). Development of a design-based learning curriculum through design-based research for a technology-enabled science classroom. Educational Technology Research and Development, 63(4), 575-602.

Loh, B., Reiser, B. J., Radinsky, J., Edelson, D. C., Gomez, L. M., & Marshall, S. (2001). Developing reflective inquiry practices: A case study of software, the teacher, and students. In K. Crowley, C.

Martin, L. (2015). The promise of the Maker Movement for education. Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research (J-PEER)5(1), 4.

Nuwer, R. (2016). The inventor's handbook. The essential guide from idea to market. Retrieved from

Schunn, & T. Okada (Eds.), Designing for science: Implications from everyday, classroom, and professional settings (pp. 279–324). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Song, D., Karimi, A., & Kim, P. (2015). A Remotely Operated Science Experiment framework for under-resourced schools. Interactive Learning Environments, 1-19.

Waks, S. (1995). Curriculum design: From an art towards a science. Hamburg: Tempus Publications.


Contact info: Paul Kim, phkim[at]

Note: The opinions expressed in the articles included in this newsletter are those of the authors and editors, and do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of UNESCO, nor of any particular Division or Office.