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Teaching the Future: Why 3D learning needs to begin in Education

The use of 3D printing to support teaching in education is already well recognized, but it is easy to overlook the necessity of teaching the next generation how to use this key technology now.
3D disruption
Currently we are seeing almost weekly reports about the latest advancements in the use of 3D printing, everything from houses, organs, guns, prosthesis, even a replacement spine. The disruption caused by this industry has already begun, with global giant Amazon establishing its 3D printing capabilities with a bespoke ordering process.

3D printing in education
The purchase of 3D printers has become more accessible for the education sector due to the number of 3D printer manufacturers. This, paired with the availability and accessibility of materials, software, technical support and training, has seen the emergence of 3D printing in schools.

Currently some educators may use 3D printers to create learning aids for technical and intricate subjects, such as physics and engineering. The benefits include improved student engagement by bringing a subject to life, adding context and encouraging interaction. Having the opportunity to quickly create a tangible version of an idea or concept has the potential to be a very powerful teaching tool.

This technology will undoubtedly benefit learning, both in science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM), but also in subjects such as geography, graphic design, music and history. For example, history students could replicate historic artifacts and music students can print their own instruments to experience how changing the size or position of a hole can change the sound.

The future is printed
The possibilities for the future of 3D printing are seemingly endless, with some futurists incredibly excited at the potential to revolutionize the way we create almost everything. The development of printing materials removes the limitations on what can be created, and a global network of machines removes geographical constraints. It is likely that with the desire for speed, customization, lower costs and material diversity, the application of 3D printing will become a norm in everyday life. This technology will also shape the workforce of the future, with skills such as agility, adaptation and experimentation becoming highly valued.

Some of the key industries which are positively impacted by 3D printing are healthcare and dentistry, construction, automotive and aerospace, retail and space exploration. Below we discuss some possible uses for this exciting technology.
  • Healthcare & dentistry – The ability to create individually tailored skin grafts, body parts, blood cells, immunisations, and organs will help patients, reduce waiting times, increase the success of operations, reduce suffering, and prolong life.
  • Construction – 3D printed houses will become standard, with fast and easy templates available and the ability to create bespoke buildings. This will be particularly useful in creating low-cost accommodation to address homelessness, or where emergency shelters are required. Dubai has already announced that by 2025 25% of their new buildings will be made using 3D printers.
  • Automotive & Aerospace – Building on what is already being done in these industries, the use of new lightweight materials will see the manufacture of these items being carried out exclusively by 3D printers.
  • Retail – With the advancement of 3D printed fabrics, designers can share their templates for consumers to purchase and customize any product they like.
  • Space exploration –NASA has already carried out a 3D Printing in Zero-G Technology demonstration (3D Printing In Zero-G) experiment which has shown that 3D printers work normally in space. This opens up a whole new realm of possibilities in space travel, where food, equipment, spare parts, shuttles, satellites and even accommodation could be created in space.
The time to learn is now
The nurturing and development of skills such as problem solving, creativity, agility, and spatial orientation is learned at an early age and aided by using 3D printers. This prepares students to be part of a new and growing workforce. Using 3D printing encourages students to move quickly and easily from idea conception through to producing a tangible object. Children already have such a vast array of technology available to them, with cell phones, tablets and consoles of their own -- education needs to keep up.
If the future workforce will be using 3D printers, there is a real risk of a skills gap due to there being too few people who are familiar with this technology. According to the World Economic Forum, “by 2020 more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today”. There is a very real need to equip students with the knowledge, experience and understanding to help to prepare them for future technology. The way to do this is to let them loose; in other words, future generations need to get their hands on futuristic technology today.
Students can increase their learning with 3D printers but they also need to engage with the technology making it a natural part of their education. The ability to learn through trial and error is a key trait for success in the future workforce, and the skills gained from using this technology will be invaluable. We need to prepare the next generation for the future by becoming accustomed to using the technology which may well shape the jobs market.

With huge technological advances in digital transformation, connectivity and the use of 3D printing, the skills and technology of the future workplace must to be prepared for now.  Technology and education go hand in hand, it is time to prepare students for the future by teaching them to use this technology today and learn the vital skills of tomorrow.

To learn more about 3D printing in education, read our eBook ‘An Educator’s Guide to Introducing 3D Printing in the Classroom’.

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