Fabricating concepts: using custom 3D models to teach abstract concepts

Jon McNaughtan, Ryan Litsey, Nichole Morelock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Many scholars and practitioners have attempted innovative teaching practices in an effort to make complex ideas easier to comprehend and retain. The purpose of this study was to test the relationship between learning and the use of 3D models created to provide physical representations of abstract concepts students could hold and manipulate. Design/methodology/approach: Using a quasi-experimental design, we test both the students' initial comprehension of the concept and their retention of the information four weeks later when the course concluded. Findings: Findings included an initial boost in information retention and a likely increased retention of the information, showing promising trajectories for incorporating 3D objects to enhance teaching in the classroom. Originality/value: This study provides a unique analysis of the use of 3D printing technology to illustrate abstract concepts. This teaching innovation provides another example of how technology can enhance and engage students through active learning. We find that this approach can increase student retention of material.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Applied Research in Higher Education
StateAccepted/In press - 2020


  • 3D models
  • Abstract concepts
  • Teaching innovation


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