From Hands-On to Online: Learning Goes Virtual at Artisan’s Asylum

DATE:  April 20, 2020     CATEGORIES:  Blog, Current Classes, Education

In March when Charlie Baker, governor of Massachusetts, announced the closing of all non-essential businesses, our staff recognized we would need to respond swiftly to the current health threat by canceling all classes and closing our doors for the health and safety of our members and students. Suspending all in-person classes was devastating. But it required us to take a step back and envision our future, both short-term in adapting to a post-COVID-19 era and more long term.

As one of the largest makerspaces in the U.S., we pride ourselves on the depth and breadth of the learning that takes place here. Learners of all types that step through our doors have the opportunity to experience hands-on learning from talented makers and fabricators.

But, moving to online classes is daunting. Makerspaces are designed to give students access to  expensive equipment they may not have in their home workspaces and to tap into the artistry and experience of our cadre of specialized Instructors. Training doesn’t begin to describe the experiential, kinesthetic learning that happens in our center. So how do you transfer that physical learning to an online framework without losing what makes it engaging and worthwhile? 

First, we needed to revisit how people learn: What learning process(es) happens in our classes? What elements are flexible enough to move to an online format?

One of the best tools that defines the types of learning is the Learning Pyramid, because it helps visualize the pathway a learner may take during a hands-on experience. In examining how our Instructors teach their classes, all three components are apparent in every Artisan’s class. Instructors provide safety and usage demonstrations on machines and instruction on how to complete projects. These typically make use of the auditory and visual components of learning. Then students experience kinesthetic learning when they have the opportunity to work with a tool or resource for their own project. 

Another way to think about these two types of learning is the difference between training through demonstration vs. teaching, which is the help and feedback offered during the kinesthetic portion of the class. The training portion of the class can lend itself more easily to pre-recorded video, visual handouts, training documents, etc.—the information they need to know and use is still covered in an online demonstration (either given live or pre-recorded) and the teaching time when they need the most support can be dedicated to personalizing their learning experience.

Our challenge becomes the hands-on portion of each class and how to adapt our practice to fit online formats. It sadly means not all classes will translate to fully online classes. But there are opportunities to adjust traditional classes through hybrid learning, classes held partially online and partially on-site in small groups when we reopen.

With these thoughts in mind, we are embracing online learning. Here are the three steps we’ve taken to launch our online classes this month and provide our students and members with quality experiences.

Step 1: Our Best Resource—Instructor Ingenuity
The first thing we did is turn to our best resource, our Instructors. We reached out to them to ask who could adapt their classes to an online structure or offer a deep dive into a component of their curriculum that would be amenable to an online format. This prompt helped many of our Instructors innovate and think of new ideas they hadn’t considered before. Some were able to rethink their curriculum and adapt it for online. 

3D Modeling classes and CAD software were the low hanging fruit that could be adapted into virtual classes easily and will be some of our first online offerings. Software and platform-based learning courses are the first places anyone can start to develop an online curriculum. 

To be clear, not all classes and Instructors wanted to or felt they could move their coursework online. Skills-based classes and safety training classes using tools and resources available only at our facility will not be held until we reopen. Our goal was to see which existing classes could shift to and what new classes we can create for an online model. 

Step 2: Tap Adjacent Resources
We knew immediately we’d have to bring on new talent and expand our offerings in adjacent fields to meet the needs of our community. About 40% of Artisan’s Asylum members have or run a small business, either in our facility or in conjunction with our tools and resources. Therefore, we have begun exploring how we can support these small businesses. Our members will need resources, such as marketing, business guidance, and growth support, after we reopen, and we are pursuing education content in these and other areas. 

Also, in a time when hiring has almost stopped, we’ve ramped up our hiring efforts to bring in experts in adjacent fields where making and designing are at the core of their work. Interior and graphic design, photography, animation, and others are all content areas we know our community can connect into and may be needed skills in the post-COVID-19 era. 

Step 3: Establishing Frameworks
Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, we established five different approaches to online teaching:  

  1. Free & Fun—Short Youtube videos that can go out on our social media channels can provide creative learning opportunities for adults and children;
  2. On the Slice Learning—This two-hour workshop format dives into segments of learning that compliment our hands-on classes or open up new areas of learning we haven’t taught before;
  3. Advanced—A series of deep-dive classes that augment the learning from our hands-on classes, particularly the use of CAD-based platforms and building skills that can be used anywhere and for learners globally;
  4. Hybrid Learning—Based on the Learning Pyramid, these classes adapt their training and demonstration portions of their lessons to online video, then students can come in for 1:1 or small group classes when we reopen. This format will allow us to observe social distancing protocols, which we anticipate will be in place for the next few months; and
  5. Parent & Child Online Projects— We are creating classes that kids and parents can take together at home, using objects from around the house that can be repurposed. 

We’re still learning each day how to transform our education programs and expand online learning. We invite you for a discussion on teaching kinesthetic learning activities by virtual tools and to learn from each other. Join us on Zoom for From Hands-On to Online: Tuesday, April 28 at 6PM EDT. 

ANNE WRIGHT is director of education at Artisan’s Asylum. She has a background in adult education and training with a focus on the arts, and a Master’s degree in education from Harvard University.