Using 3D Printing as a Strategy for Including Different Student Learning Styles in the Classroom

Using 3D Printing as a Strategy for Including Different Student Learning Styles in the Classroom

Susana C. F. Fernandes (Polytechnic Institute of Maia, Portugal & Polytechnic Institute of Cavado and Ave, Portugal) and Ricardo Simoes (Polytechnic Institute Cavado and Ave, Portugal & University of Minho, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7018-9.ch009


This chapter aims to explore the contribution of 3D printing technologies as a collaborative resource in higher education teaching. It was conducted in the course “Physics of Materials,” in which the contribution of practical experience in the learning process was analyzed and the degree of interest, motivation, and understanding by students on academic content was assessed. Practical demonstrations with resources prepared by 3D printing can be a very motivational learning facilitator. To this end, the learning styles of students were determined through the Honey-Alonso learning styles questionnaire (CHAEA). A second questionnaire was used to obtain information about the motivational importance of 3D printing technology in teaching activities in the classroom. The authors concluded that 3D printing can positively help teachers to improve students' engagement and proactive behavior, as well as teaching environment, by including different methodological styles in the learning process, particularly in courses with a significant theoretical content.
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The concept of ‘styles’ related with ‘learning’ was first put forward by cognitive psychologists. Tan Dingliang (1995, cited in JinjinLu, 2014, p.36) defines learning styles as: ‘the way that a learner often adopts in the learning process, which includes the learning strategies that have been stabilized within a learner, the preference of some teaching stimuli and learning tendency.’ Reid (1995, p.12) summarizes previous definitions of learning styles (Dunn & Dunn,1978;Keefe, 1979;Brown, 2002, p.10) as: ‘internally based characteristics of individuals for the intake or understanding of new information’. Essentially, learning styles involve how a person perceives, processes, uses, and manipulates information to facilitate learning. This chapter attempts to establish how 3D printing can play a role in the classroom to achieve a more efficient learning, particularly in engineering education.

Student learning styles are increasingly studied around the world (e.g.Sánchez-Martín et al, 2017;Parrish, 2016;Hames & Baker, 2014;Cagiltay, 2008;Edward, 2001;Hench, 1993). This is mainly due to the importance that each student has as a social, independent, human being, with individual aspirations and needs. Students can be proactive and engaged or, alternatively, passive and alienated (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Thus, keeping motivation when approaching academic contents requires innovative and motivational teaching methods (Acca & Aicwa, 2010). Consequently, the better one knows the characteristics of students who share the same environment, the easier it is to maintain good social relationships and develop the necessary skills for success (Edward, 2001).

Modern higher education institutions require flexible teaching and learning practices, focused on new technologies, and providing greater efficiency in acquiring knowledge (European Commission, 2014). Technology can change the classroom experience (Laurillard, 2013;Acca & Aicwa, 2010). The teaching methods used in the classroom should provide a favorable environment for the development of self-work skills. Knowing how to learn tends to be a key skill for innovation and experience in modern communities and workplaces, which tend to be more demanding (European Commission, 2014;Pacific Policy Research Center, 2010). Therefore, it is important that teaching, and, in particular, the teaching approach (as well as methods and techniques employed), addresses the development of those particular skills.

Towards this goal, teachers could consider the different students’ learning styles. To address real-world needs/problems, teaching should focus on diverse approaches, strategies, materials, and resources to ensure effective communication for most students and their individual styles (Pacific Policy Research Center, 2010;Honey & Mumford, 2000;European Commission, 2014).

This chapter begins by describing the theoretical models about teaching and learning. Subsequently, it characterizes learning styles and then focuses on experiential learning using 3D printing technology.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Innovative Learning Environments: According to Fiskars model, have the goal to connect school activities to the surrounding community and make use of existing resources in the teaching of culture, art, and craft skills. Those environments inspire students to learn by doing.

Direct Teaching: A systematic instructional method that primarily requires the teacher to have a command of the subject matter as close to a proficiency level as possible.

CHAEA (Cuestionario Honey-Alonso de Estilos de Aprendizaje): A tool for collecting data, about the characteristics of people associated with the different styles of learning, formed by 80 items, 20 for each style of learning, randomized by questionnaire.

Experiential Learning: The process of learning through experience, and is more specifically defined as “learning through reflection on doing.” Experiential learning can exist without a teacher and relates solely to the meaning-making process of the individual's direct experience.

Learning Styles: A range of competing and contested theories that aim to account for differences in individuals' learning. As individuals differ in how they learn, it is recommended that teachers assess the learning styles of their students and adapt their classroom methods to best fit each student's learning style.

Indirect Teaching: An approach close to constructivist theories of learning, where teachers challenge students to think in critical ways, make decisions and solve problems, especially when realistic and problem-driven learning scenarios are adopted.

Teaching Methods: Combinations of strategies and principles used by teachers to enable student learning, determined in part by the subject matter to be taught and in part by the nature of the learner.

3D Printing Technologies: Or additive manufacturing technologies, are fabrication processes that allow building a 3D object from a digital file, with a range of allowed geometries that goes much beyond what traditional fabrication processes (milling, molding, etc.) allow.

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