Introduction to SOLID Learning

The personalized robotics course is a pilot course for the larger educaitonal model I refer to as “SOLID Learning” that will integrate 3D printing with many different classes: architectural examples, artifacts for early hominid studies, skeletal reproduction for physiology and morphology studies – even wing-design for lifting surface experiments. For wing shape labs, I am currently designing a 3D printable laminar-flow wind tunnel that uses a standard 120mm computer fan so that teachers can print out learning materials and lab equipment at need without requiring expensive purchases of equipment that must be stored and maintained – and which could fall short if student population changes rapidly.

The solid learning concept of layered educational alignment with 3d printing capabilities

In solid learning, teachers will be able to request a lesson for their class and then download the lesson materials such as PDFs for handouts and lecture notes together with links to supplemental multimedia. What makes this different from current educational initiatives is that the request will also include 3D models of objects and equipment that enhance the lesson, which can be downloaded by the teacher for local reproduction.

Interviews with teachers and public schools indicate that while they would love to be able to print out these objects, safety and security concerns may require schools to control access to 3D printers by creating a central per-school service area. DARPA’s program to place makerspaces in public schools (Project: MENTOR) aligns well with this because 3D printers are included in the planned resources that will be provided.

In the solid learning model, complexity of an object does not reflect the structure or detail of an object but rather the variety of materials and complexity of color necessary for learning enhancement. A “simple” object could include interlocking movable parts and very fine detail rendered in inexpensive polymers, while “complex” objects would include object reproductions with metals, mixed materials, and even full-color objects printed with internal moving parts.

Multi-color functional meshing gears created using a Z-Corp printer

Simple school-level modelling requires only an inexpensive 3D printer that can create objects using melted polymers. MakerBot Education ( is sponsoring my research by providing one of their Replicator 3D Printer for testing this level of reproduction, which I have blogged about previously. This would also be the same type of 3D printer that would be used by individual teachers for direct printing, and can cost between $500 and $3,000 per school to implement

Complex reproduction requires more elaborate systems such as the ZCorp full-color granular plastic printer or the ObJet Eden multi-material system, which are more expensive than their simple melted-polymer cousins. Complex reproduction systems can run $50,000 or more but provide exceptional capabilities for reproducing full-colored models where color can be critical to studies of artifacts, relics, and biology. Due to the cost of these systems, teachers who are members of the TEA (Texas Education Association) suggested that the 20 Education Service Centers might be idea locations for complex model reproduction, with results routed to schools for distribution to educators. Many other states have adopted equivalents to the regional education service centers, so this distribution model may work well elsewhere too.

As solid learning expands to include more classes and learning materials, individual school printers may be overwhelmed because printing a 3D model takes time. Scheduling software could aid this by applying Just In Time manufacturing techniques so that objects needed early in the semester are printed over the summer, with others being schduled for reproduction in time for their distribution and use. If integrated across participating educational systems, unused capacity in one school could support overruns from a neighboring facility. Educational service centers could also house additional equipment for both complex and simple reproduction capacity to handle emergent need for learning materials throughout their region.

SOLID Learning promises to transform education from student observation and listening to active engagement through interactive hands-on lessons guided by instructors and augmented by examples and equipment that can be printed only when needed – allowing teachers and schools to personalize and customize class and individual learning within common frameworks of education!

SOLID Learning Links [more to be added over time]: