The problem – there is traditionally a very steep learning curve for everyday people to be able to fabricate/research.
The solution – fab labs and informal education
What is informal education?
- A description of informal education can be found here  – “Informal learning happens throughout people's lives in a highly personalized manner based on their particular needs, interests, and past experiences. This type of multi-faceted learning is voluntary, self-directed, and often mediated within a social context. It provides an experiential base and motivation for further activity and subsequent learning.” (NSF)
- Not boring
- Often peer-to-peer based
- Inquiry based
- Hands-on project based
- Just-in-time (JIT) learning vs. just-in-case (JIC) learning – the user sets the pace, schedule, intensity, and drive the focus.
- Reduces barriers to learning
- It needs to be real world and something that they can relate to.
- Playfulness is important. Don’t be formal, have fun with it. Make learning fun. Make it a game. They will play the game because it is fun and will learn as a result.
- Make it personal (personal outreach) – inspiration through personal connections.
- Keep them motivated to keep learning – create inspiration.
- Make it OK to fail (encourage failure?). Help those that fail recover and learn from their mistakes.
- Make learning interactive
- Work in groups with student experts
- Ask questions and let the students figure out the answers. Make them think about it, don’t just give them all the answers.
- Meet the students at the level they are on.
- Some people learn better from someone their own age
- Foster a sharing mindset
- Make learning incremental so that it is less intimidating.
Analogies for approaches to reduce the learning curve:
- Steep cliff – tools are available but no instruction. Can easily get very lost and discouraged very quickly.
- Stairs – small incremental learning steps. Easy to recover from failures.
- Tunnel – similar to stairs but without the holistic view. Get through the process but don’t know where they are going along the way. May understand the individual steps but don’t get the big picture and may have a hard time applying the tools to other situations.
Fab Labs are a toolbox for digital fabrication. User must learn how to use the tools (equipment, software, and processes)
Mind set is important
Fab Lab users should take on many different roles: