Learning Through Making: The Best Kind of Education

Chris Lawrence

Learning scientists and educational philosophers have long understood that when we learn with the combination of our hands and our minds, we see the best results. In the realm of science, this process is called “inquiry” — it encourages curious learners and scientific  researchers alike to interact with the natural world to better understand it. In the social sciences, this hands-on learner approach is through role-play and participating in the real world, exemplified by Model UN student governments. Learners are encouraged to participate in the very organizations they’re learning about.

It’s not a new idea: American philosopher John Dewey was a major advocate of learning-through-doing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Still, the idea has struggled to gain a substantial foothold in our current systems of teaching and learning.

Digital literacy — the ability to participate and create online — is fast becoming a skill equally as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. Having the know-how to create online can empower individuals around the globe, no matter their geography or traditional educational background. Digital literacy creates unprecedented social and economic opportunities. We have a chance to advance the learning-by-doing approach through the spread of digital literacy.

At Mozilla, we’re dedicated to coupling our digital literacy programs with a “make first” approach that would make John Dewey grin. We don’t think the Web should be taught traditionally, with textbooks and a blackboard. The “sage on the stage” approach is directly oppositional to the distributed and participatory nature of the Web we champion. Instead, learners should start by doing what they eventually intend to master: building apps, remixing content, creating web pages, and more. This “make first” approach has always guided Mozilla’s Learning Networks, a collection of Hives, Clubs, and annual celebrations like Maker Party and MozFest.

Our Hive networks and communities — soon to reach a total of 16 — mix a “make first” philosophy with a deep focus on collaboration. As a result, learners in the U.S., India, Canada, and beyond have created amazing stuff, like apps and tools that can protect the environment, make audio engineering simple, and teach robots to sing. Hive educators and mentors understand that the best teachers empower their students by modeling and fostering creativity. As a result, Hive learners aren’t just taking in information — they’re also creating amazing things.

Our Mozilla Clubs, which will formally launch after this July’s two-week Maker Party, follow the same philosophy. Empowered by an interactive curriculum, Club participants will learn the basics of coding, animation, user privacy, and more. The Clubs’ flexible structure allows “make first,” collaborative learning to take place anytime, anywhere.

This “make first” philosophy also helps to motivate students. When learners reach a frustration point — that is, when a lack of knowledge becomes a blocker to their pursuits — they have an intrinsic motivation to push forward by learning new things. “Make first” allows them to do just this.

Further, a “make first” approach is critical to more than just education — it ensures we’re creating a populace ready for the future. With Mozilla’s Learning Network projects, we can empower entire cohorts of teachers and learners and seed innovation with incredible potential.

We hope you’ll join us in teaching through making. To get involved, share your ideas and projects using the hashtag #TeachTheWeb. You can also tune in to our Teach The Web podcast, or share your story with us.

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