Reaping the benefits of 3D printing

The schools that have invested in 3D printers are now reaping the benefits right across the curriculum, says Paul Croft

1.) What recent advances have been made in 3D printing within the education sector?

Over the last 12 months we’ve seen an increase in the number of people using 3D printers in education institutions and as a result the knowledge base and peer-to-peer learning has further aided adoption.  With more social proof in the form of case studies and improved exam grades confirming what people in the industry have believed for a while, the new academic year should be really exciting!

2.) We’ve seen 3D printing being used in many sectors but has it really moved forward in our schools and universities?

Whilst the progress in some schools has been slower than others, the uptake at university level has been fantastic.  The UK & Ire already have many of the worlds thought leaders in Additive Manufacturing techniques. The value that desktop 3D printers now represent, compared to a few years ago, is that they facilitate learning opportunities that aren’t available if manufacturing is outsourced.  The schools that have made the investment are reaping the benefits as the pioneers are using 3D printing technology right across the curriculum.  

What continues to excite is the engagement of primary schools  – the next generation of entrepreneurs engineers, architects, manufacturers and designers are getting access to this technology at an early age. They just view it as another tool in their collection rather than a magical box that’s incomprehensible – which some people from the older generation struggle to do!

The fact that so many industries are now using 3D printing or Additive Manufacturing dictates the education sector must embrace them and move forwards. Alternatively, the skills gap will continue to grow and we will be left behind other countries that have really gone for it.

3.) In your opinion, what skills can young learners gain from having 3D printing in the classroom?

Every educator we collaborate with has a different story of the skills that have been developed thanks to 3D printing.  The most powerful in my personal opinion isn’t the STEAM skills that are incorporated into the 3D printing and design process, rather the power to engage pupils otherwise lost to the system.  A headteacher working in a challenging school said that one pupil in particular, who refused not to swear at teaching staff, became the model pupil when given access to the Ultimaker2+ because he could see his ideas coming to life!

In a previous article I discussed the power of developing the soft skills that every employer is looking for and the fact that understanding iterations, the design process and embracing failure are all learning outcomes that are difficult to achieve in a classroom without a 3D printer.

4.) 3D printers are generally still quite expensive, do the benefits it can bring to teaching and learning justify the costs?

Relative to other equipment in the education institutions I’m not sure it is that expensive and the fact that pupils can actually use this equipment means that tangible learning benefits are abundant.  As part of CREATE Education Project we offer a free loan scheme so teachers can see the value and map the benefits before making an investment.

Every educator we collaborate with has a different story of the skills that have been developed thanks to 3D printing

5.) Can you recommend any resources or training programmes which could help schools/universities and teachers to understand and use a 3D printer?

We have been working tirelessly since 2014 to bring together everything people need to reap the benefits of 3D Printing.  We collaborate with thousands of passionate people who believe that education is all about sharing knowledge. Check out and join our community who are always happy to help. 

6.) Will 3D printing continue to grow in education – and will these machines be a classroom staple in years to come? 

Given the pull of industry adoption and the requirement for people with relevant skills, it is inevitable.  How quickly that happens will rely on how much access and support people receive and how much best practice is shared.  Individuals who contest this point haven’t seen the amazing stuff going on in universities and witnessed the disruption across all industries. They may even end up in the same bracket as people who said PCs wouldn’t become a staple!

Paul Croft is Director of UltimakerGB and Founder of CREATE Education Project




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