Making is learning

We started working on Mozilla Webmaker about a year ago with this thesis: inviting people to make, tinker and share things is the best way to teach the world how the web works.

Much has changed with Webmaker since. We’ve evolved Popcorn Maker into something lean and intuitive. Thimble has emerged from the Xray Goggles. And our vague ideas about community building turned into a worldwide Summer Code Party. But one thing has stayed constant: our core belief that making is the fastest (and funnest) way to learn things.
We’re not the only people who think that making and learning are deeply intertwined. Seymour Papert thought it 30 years back. Today, you see it in action at Maker Faires and in every hackerspaces around the world. You see it in the hands on side of the ‘learn to code’ movement. And, as demonstrated in NESTA’s recent report on innovation in education, you see it in discussions that link the resurgence of making, hacking and craft with new ways to teach and learn.
Reflecting on all this recently, I was reminded that the opportunity here is is much bigger than teaching the world the web. In a world where digital things make making easier and cheaper than ever, we have the chance to move the learning ball quite far in at least three areas: digital literacy; digital citizenship; and STEAM.

If you think about a Maker Faire or a hackerspace for a moment, you can see a snapshot of this opportunity. You turn one direction: you see people who have taught themselves to engineer robots, rocket ships and all kinds of fantastical contraptions. You turn another: you see a table full of kids and parents teaching each other to code with Scratch. And, all around you: you see people helping each other, tinkering, collaborating and inventing by doing. These are all things that we tend to tap into more as we become citizens of the web.
Also: appetite in making and digital creativity is growing. Mozilla recently asked UK young people aged 8 – 15 about coding, making games and making web pages: 67% said they wanted to know how to do these things yet only 3% said they already had these skills. In the same survey, UK parents ranked coding the most important thing for their children to learn after science, english and math. Also, consider that a billion people on our planet already post or curate content online: these people may not be full fledged digital makers yet, but they clearly comfortable creating and sharing online. My guess is that many of these people just need a little nudge to dive deeper into hacking, coding and making.

Of course, tapping into making as a way to make substantial progress on digital literacy, digital citizenship and STEM would require more than just MakerFaires, Popcorn and social networks. It would require a concerted effort to build products, run programs and raise public awareness in a way that gets 100s of millions of people excited about the connection between making and learning. The thing is: it feels like many of us are already making this concerted effort. What we’re not doing yet is talking to each other or telling the world how huge this opportunity is.
As I start planning for Webmaker 2013, I want to find ways to fix this: to build a bigger making and learning agenda. We already work with many people are building this agenda in their own areas: Tim O’Reilly and Dale Dougherty at Make; Tom Kenyon and the people at NESTA in the UK; Connie Yowell and the team at MacArthur. We all agree that the coming year is the right time to really push the idea of making and learning globally. As a first step, I’m working with some of these people on a simpler way to describe making + learning. Let me know if you want to be involved.

8 responses

  1. Dino wrote on :

    Mark, of course I would love to be involved in cultivating these connections between making and learning. In order to bring 1. public awareness, and 2. help chronicle the process of this cultural transformation, how about we start with making a short, 3-5 min video of your call to arms? We can see what responses from around the world come via this mode of sharing. I’m ready to jump in.

  2. Juan Gonzalez ( wrote on :

    I’ve enjoyed the wide array of experiments that have been run by your group in Toronto throughout the year, from the first Hive Popup planning sessions to the actual workshops with kids, in some of which I had the privilege of participating. I may have taken your Summer of Code a little too seriously and decided to make this quest my full time endeavour: figuring out how we can improve education through making (see ). As everyone else in the educational space I’ve been amazed by the strong traction that MOOC organizations have demonstrated this year, but think they are not doing enough as most of their effort is focused on porting the same “lecture” experience to the web. You and I know of the power of making as a secret tool for engaging the attention of a generation that has access to more information that ever before. Figuring out how this making (and not only web making) can be facilitated by our digital tools, without becoming another app for mobile, is likely the most important challenge. When that is solved, we have the opportunity to disseminate a new philosophy on education that preaches using “making” as a platform for delivering education, not just skills. I would be thrilled to sync my efforts to those of your organization.

  3. Caroline wrote on :

    Hey Mark, The team at RunRev make LiveCode available to as many Digital Literacy programs as we are aware off. LiveCode is used to teach programming to students in the 13-18 age groups in thousands of High Schools around the world. Where it has been used for more than 1 year it has been shown to double the uptake in class sizes. It is adopted by both boys and girls equally, which we are delighted about and the speed with which student produce professional results is truly breathtaking.We would be delighted to be involved so dont hesitate to get in touch.
    Best regards, Caroline

  4. Garth Graham wrote on :

    Mark, how is the “Arts” part of STEAM coming into the mix?

  5. Caroline wrote on :

    Mark, I’d like to use your ‘Making + Learning’ image in this post in a presentation for a student conference. I didn’t see an indication of licensing, so I though I’d check directly with you. Thanks!

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