The economics of classroom 3-d printing of open-source digital designs of learning aids

Nicole Gallup, Joshua M. Pearce*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


While schools struggle financially, capital for purchasing physical learning aids is often cut. To determine if costs could be reduced for learning aids, this study analyzed classroom-based distributed digital manufacturing using 3-D printing of open-source learning aid designs. Learning aid designs are analyzed in detail for their economic viability considering printing and assembly costs with purchased components and compared to equivalent or inferior commercial products available on Amazon. The results show current open-source 3-D printers are capable of manufacturing useful learning aids and that doing so provides high economic savings in the classroom. Overall, the average learning aid would save teachers 86% when fabricating it themselves. The results show that the average design evaluated was downloaded over 1,500 times and the average savings per year per open-source learning aid design was USD 11,822. To date, the 38 learning aid designs evaluated in this study saved over USD 45,000 each and the total of all of them saved the international educational community over USD 1.7 million. It is clear that investing in the development of open-source learning aids for students provides a return on investment (ROI) for investors hoping to improve education, on average, of more than 100%.

Original languageEnglish
Article number50
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • 3-D printing
  • Digital designs
  • Distributed manufacturing
  • Economics
  • Education aid
  • Learning aid
  • Open source
  • Open-source designs
  • Teaching tools

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