3D printing: today’s youth are tomorrow’s innovators

With technology changing the workforce, education needs to change too, to prepare the employees of the future. And that change is more than just putting an iPad in the classroom. So says Siert Wijnia, CTO and co-founder of Ultimaker, as he explores how 3D printing can change the way students learn.

A new dimension

To quote Jonathan Swift, “Invention is the talent of youth, as judgment is of age”. As business today undergoes digital transformation, so must the way in which we encourage learning and the skills that we impart to tomorrow’s workforce.

While leaders in education are starting to embrace 3D technology, the extent to which 3D printing comes naturally to students as they turn an idea into something tangible is becoming increasingly evident.

Applications of 3D printing in education and learning are only limited by our own imagination, as we can see from the applications through such initiatives as the Create Education Project. It requires creative thinking, as well as innovative thinking, helping foster problem-solving skills and invention. Schools and education bodies have used 3D printing for history projects, helping students understand complex structures like the colosseum in Rome. In science, secondary school girls in Lancaster considering careers in medicine and engineering were challenged to design and make a 3D-printed model of an animal cell for use in teaching. And in geography, printing maps in 3D shows landscapes that you can normally only see in an aerial view.

3D printing and valuable skill sets

3D printing requires a way of learning that goes beyond theory, which is largely listening and seeing. Students that have used 3D printing to learn,will look to apply knowledge differently, interacting with their ideas and evolving their thinking faster.

Due to the fact that 3D printing has become very hands-on, with the introduction of desktop 3D printing, learners are more engaged than they are with passive learning. The technology gives students the option to apply their knowledge and then modify and tweak 3D printed creations, until satisfied with the result. This type of thinking matches the entrepreneurial behaviour of ‘failing fast, rebound and innovate’. Another defining trait of entrepreneurs is ‘persistent curiosity’, and 3D printing encourages just that.  

Many organisations seek this entrepreneurial spirit in their workforce, as it encourages innovation and collaboration. Cultural change can be difficult, especially in organisations that have certain ways of working deeply embedded in them. And, whilst many are undergoing digital transformation and implementing new processes to support new business strategies, 3D printing should be considered a vital tool to encourage innovation and critical thinking.

‘3D printing is beginning to make its mark in education, but there is huge potential for more educational bodies to get involved.’

Why today?

If the benefits of 3D printing are so obvious, the question becomes “Rather than waiting for this generation to hit the workforce, how can businesses and educational bodies work better together?”

The most commonly cited barriers are having the tools to implement 3D printing, as well as the understanding of how these tools can be used to teach certain subjects. Some businesses are already linking with local schools for other reasons, but organisations who see a future in 3D printing would be wise to consider investing in their up-and-coming local workforce by providing students with tools and education around the opportunities that the technology brings.

Pioneers in 3D printing are also investing in the education sector. For example, the European Schoolnet’s Future Classroom Lab has been working with education and ICT providers since 2012 to rethink the role of pedagogy, technology and design in the classroom. The initiative encourages technology leaders to collaborate with policy makers, industry leaders, teachers and other education stakeholders to explore new ways of teaching and learning through 3D printing.


3D printing is beginning to make its mark in education, but there is huge potential for more educational bodies to get involved. Having 3D printing embedded as a learning method at an early age brings a host of benefits relevant to business. As these young minds enter the workforce they will be far more empowered to be the harbinger of innovation, creativity and collaboration for which business is calling. 



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