Makerspaces & Learning Theories


What is Constructionism?

In their book Invent to Learn, Martinez and Stager (2013) recognize Seymour Papert as the “Father of the Maker Movement”, asserting that Papert’s constructionism “is the learning theory that most strongly resonates within the maker movement and should be taken seriously by anyone investigating classroom making” (p. 31).  Kurti, Kurti and Fleming (2014) also argue that “the maker movement in education is built upon the foundation of constructionism, which is the philosophy of hands-on learning through building things” (p.8). Papert’s constructionism builds upon constructivist theory and further develops it to include the actions of building a meaningful product to strengthen or reinforce student learning (Martinez & Stager, 2013). Seymour Papert explains how his constructionism learning theory builds upon constructivism in the following manner:

From constructivist theories of psychology we take a view of learning as a reconstruction rather than as a transmission of knowledge.  Then we   extend the idea of manipulative materials to the idea that learning is    most effective when part of an activity the learner experiences as   constructing a meaningful product (as cited in Martinez & Stager, 2013, p. 32).

According to constructionism, while the learning occurs inside the student’s head, it is the action of building something that is personally meaningful, or creating a tangible product that is shareable, that cements the real learning for the learner (Martinez & Stager, 2013, p.32). Finally, as Fleming (2015) explains, “the Maker Movement is about moving from consumption to creation and turning knowledge into action” (p. 7). It’s this “knowledge into action” piece that reflects the pairing of constructionism with makerspaces.

Video: Seymour Papert – Inventor of Everything

In the following TEDx Talk, Dr. Gary Stager discusses the powerful ideas of Seymour Papert, including the learning theory, constructionism.

 Participatory Culture & Participatory Learning 

What is Participatory Culture? 

Dr. Henry Jenkins’s concept of participatory culture embraces the idea that people can be active creators of media, not just passive consumers of it. According to Jenkins (2006),

A participatory culture is a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices. A participatory culture is also one in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have created) (p. 3).

This concept of participatory culture provides an educational application for makerspaces within schools and school libraries. It is also an excellent description of the activities that can occur and the culture that can develop within a makerspace.

Jenkins (2008) defines participatory culture in the following, brief video from MIT:


Jenkins (2013) provides an in depth explanation of participatory culture in the following video, a part of the “Big Thinkers on Education” Video Series by Edutopia:

What is Participatory Learning?

Reilly, Vartabedian, Felt and Jenkins’ (2012) participatory learning model addresses the need for today’s youth to attain skills and knowledge that enable them to meaningfully engage with and participate in contemporary culture.  Jenkins et al., (2012) argue that students require educational experiences that support these needs stating, “we believe that participatory learning offers the pedagogical model most appropriate for fostering these skills and knowledge” (p. 3).

According to Jenkins et al. (2012), “Participatory learning seeks to engage the whole student in the learning process, and understands the student as a citizen in a rich learning eco-system. School, after-school, home and online are organic parts of students’ and teachers’ worlds and learning that occurs in any one location should be integrated and extended across every location” (p. 5). Jenkins’ team at the University of Southern California’s Annenburg Innovation Lab developed the PLAY acronym, which stands for “Participatory Learning And You!”, identifying five core principles for participatory learning:

“1. Participants have many chances to exercise creativity through diverse media, tools, and practices;

2. Participants adopt an ethos of co-learning, respecting each person’s skills and knowledge;

3. Participants experience heightened motivation and engagement through meaningful play;

4. Activities feel relevant to the learners’ identities and interests;

5. An integrated learning system – or learning ecosystem – honors rich connection between home, school, community and world” (p. 4).

If we examine each of these five core principles of participatory learning and compare them to the rich array of makerspace definitions, the connections are apparent.  Makerspaces offer a form of participatory learning wherein students can explore their own interests in an informal environment, experiencing heightened engagement and motivation. Meaningful play, exercising creativity and tinkering are central to the makerspace culture. Mentorship also plays a central role within both makerspaces and participatory learning, contributing significantly to a culture of collaboration and co-learning.

 Works Cited

Edutopia, Stephen Brown (Producer). (2013, May 7). Henry Jenkins on Participatory Culture And Media Education (Big Thinkers Series) [Video file]. Retrieved from

Fleming, L. (2015). Worlds of making: Best practices for establishing a makerspace for your school. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press

Jenkins, Henry. (2006). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. An Occasional Paper on Digital Media and Learning, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from

Martinez, S. L., & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to learn: Making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom. Torrance, CA: Constructing modern knowledge press

MIT Tech TV (Producer). (2008, August 12). What is Participatory Culture? [Video file].Retrieved from

Reilly, E., Vartabedian, V., Felt, L. J., & Jenkins, H. (2012). PLAY (Participatory Learning and You!) [Slideshare Slides]. Retrieved from

Your Participation is Requested [Photograph]. (2009). Retrieved from

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s