As Digital Promise works with educators to close the digital learning gap, we must design learning experiences that engage the hearts and minds of learners through the principles of Powerful Learning. Maker learning, with its focus on students constructing meaningful learning artifacts, is an approach that embodies each of the four Powerful Learning Principles. In this article, we connect maker learning with the principle that learning experiences should be personal and accessible.
Every learner is different, and the ways in which we learn are complex and variable.
In a world of standardized assessment and curricula, it can be a challenge for educators to honor this principle ; The maker-centered learning environment creates the conditions for teaching and learning to successfully address the “jagged profiles” of individual learners described in research into Learner Variability. When creating personalized learning experiences many educators turn to the three-part Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework: multiple means of representation (choice in how learners acquire knowledge), action and expression (choice in how learners convey their understanding), and engagement (harnessing students’ interests and challenging them at the appropriate levels.) These three principles are naturally at home in maker learning experiences.
Maker learning, which finds its roots in constructionism, places strong emphasis on students acquiring technical skills that are important to them by building digital or physical artifacts to make meaning of their learning. Educators who adopt a maker mindset understand that great maker learning experiences address Learner Variability through Seymour Papert’s belief that “learning is most effective when part of an activity the learner experiences as [sic] constructing a meaningful product.”
In the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s video “Why Make? To Personalize Learning,” Lou Karas, Director of West Liberty University’s Center for Arts & Education highlights that, “in making, having ownership of what you do is an important element. Having the opportunity to decide for yourself when to stop, when to shift to something else…it gives [children] some ownership and control of what they’re doing, as opposed to everything being adult directed.” These personal decisions increase the level of student agency, which research shows fosters intrinsic motivation.
Maker learning experiences allow for a great deal of flexibility in both process and product. For the Grade 8 students at Fallingbrook Middle School in Mississauga, Ontario, the opportunity to create either digital or analog games to teach kindergarteners something new ensure students can make products that are meaningful to them. In the educational game project, each group charts their own pathways as they develop a product to which they feel connected, in this case a concept or skill they believe is important for kindergarteners to learn. Without modifying the curricular requirements, teacher-librarian Jennifer Gunter empowers her students to make the learning their own.
“Everyone is a maker. We’ve built a place where anyone can build nearly anything–that’s where you come in.” So reads the splash page of Open Works, a Baltimore-based makerspace open to all who have the desire to create something. The engineering design process places emphasis on prototyping and iteration, giving makers the opportunity to fail forward as they work from minimum viable to finished product. Educators facilitating these learning experiences understand the need to help learners embrace struggle and expect the unknown. Tools and resources range from low to high tech, physical and digital, and allow for scalable complexity to best meet the needs of all student makers.
Well designed maker learning programs emphasize both physical and emotional safety, and deliberately design experiences and spaces to be inclusive to all learners. Maker learning can create an opportunity to invite learners from marginalized populations who have traditionally not seen themselves or those in their community as part of the innovation economy or ecosystem to find their passion in this world. These can bring new perspectives and lived experiences to making that will benefit all learners around them and give them the tools to succeed in life and make positive change in the world. Bringing new learners into these programs requires more than an open door – deliberate design of welcoming and inclusive spaces, tools, and experiences, as well as active outreach are vital. The most successful maker learning programs and spaces designed with inclusivity in mind, providing pathways for makers from all walks of life at all levels of expertise.
Are you looking to start or expand a maker learning program for all learners? Visit the Digital Promise Maker Learning Leadership Framework to access more resources and tools to support your work. Some Framework resources you may find helpful in creating personal and accessible maker learning experiences are our “Envisioning a Culturally Relevant Maker Learning Program” guide and Maker Ed’s “Empowering Young People to Shape Their Worlds Through Maker-Centered Learning.”