Most makerspaces require potential equipment users to go through some sort of training process before using equipment. This page discusses some of the best practices for creating a training curriculum for equipment in your makerspace
Edit me

Choose a format

The most common methods of offering equipment training are: in-person classes, videos, and printed pamphlets or handouts. This discussion will focus on in-person classes, although the principles can be applied to other formats.

One somewhat unexpected advantage to having equipment training through in-person classes is that it can help weed out people who will not be safe and responsible equipment users. At least in a public library makerspace setting, many people drop in who are simply bored and looking for something to do and shiny new things to play with. Requiring potential equipment users to sign up for a training class, and then actually show up for that class requires them to demonstrate a baseline-level of focus and responsibility that help ensure that they can become successful equipment users.

Identify safety items

The most effective way to identify all the relevant safety concerns for a piece of equipment is almost always to read its users' manual. Users' manuals are designed to teach someone to use the equipment safely and properly, and they usually go to great lengths to point out all possible safety concerns. In fact, often the creator of a makerspace equipment training curriculum can use a little editorial license in deciding which safety items to include and which to ignore. For example, one sewing machine users' manual warned that the machine should not be used if entirely or partially submerged in water. Unless you can come up with a plausible scenario where someone would want to try a little underwater sewing in your makerspace, it is probably safe to skip that one.

It is helpful, when designing the safety portion of the training curriculum to keep the mindset that you are empowering people to do what they already want to do, which is to use the equipment safely and properly, rather than trying to stop them from doing stupid things. The vast majority of people are very anxious to learn how NOT to hurt themselves and damage things, and respond much better to an instructor who approaches things from that angle. Rather than issuing an order, "Don't touch the hot-end of the 3D printer!" a better approach is to explain the potential problem and how to avoid it – "During printing, the hot-end of the printer, which is this piece right here, reaches temperatures of over 500°F, which is hotter than your oven at home. As long as you are careful to avoid touching the hot-end, you don't have to worry about burning yourself."

Break the mass of necessary information into individual elements or processes

Users' manuals are again a powerful tool for identifying all the various steps or processes that are part of learning to use that piece of equipment, since that is generally how information in the manual is presented. The table of contents of the users' manual can often serve as a good first-draft of an outline for a training curriculum. For instance, an outline for information to be included in training for a heat press might begin:

  1. Set the pressure
  2. Set the temperature
  3. Set the time
  4. Insert the item
  5. …and so forth

Breaking things into discrete, bite-sized processes makes it less intimidating for the learners, as they have a chance to gain understanding of one small element at a time.

It is also important to remember that a training class is not a master-class. Part of the art of developing a good training curriculum is deciding which pieces of information are absolutely necessary for someone to use the equipment properly and successfully, and which are nuances and elaborations that are useful but can be picked up later. The goal is to give learners everything they need to get started without overwhelming them with more information than they can absorb.

Teach how the elements combine by running through a standard workflow on that piece of equipment

After teaching each element of the process, it is very helpful to end the training session by running through a complete standard workflow on that piece of equipment from start to finish, to help the learners connect all the pieces you have just given them, and to model proper and successful use of the equipment. While doing this it is important to verbalize what you are doing – "I come in; I flip this switch here to turn on the laser cutter and cooling systems. I check that the cooling systems are all working by first putting my hand here to make sure I can feel airflow, then making sure the water pump is running. I then home the laser by pushing this button here…" and so forth, going through the full process of a basic project from start to finish.

Include a hands-on element if at all possible

To help people over the mental intimidation-gap between taking a class on a piece of equipment and then coming in on their own to use it, a hands-on element to training classes is extremely valuable. If at all possible, provide every member of the class an opportunity to interact with the equipment and perform one or more basic tasks on it. Actually touching and using a piece of equipment and seeing that they are not damaging it and it is in no way hurting them is a significant mental hurdle for many people.

Including a hands-on element to a class also helps check for understanding, and lets class members see important processes repeated multiple times as each member of the class performs them, which helps them learn better. For instance, a 3D printer class might have each class member go through the full process for loading and then unloading filament, and starting and stopping a print.

Project-based equipment training

A valuable extension of this idea is to offer training classes that give each class member a chance to complete a small project as part of the class. For example, participants in a laser cutter project-based training might each be asked to bring a wooden cutting board, on which they would laser-burn a monogram or other small image as part of the class. Classes with this format allow all participants to learn in a hands-on format and go through the full process of completing a project as part of their learning. The main drawback to these kinds of classes is that the class size must be kept small and the projects simple in order to be able to include a full equipment training AND time for everyone to complete a project during the class.

Provide a way for people to review information on their own as needed

Since an equipment training class can cover quite a bit of material, and many makerspace users will not be in the makerspace using that equipment every single day, it is helpful to provide a way for people who have taken the class to review the material learned. These can be quick videos, printed handouts, posted signs summarizing the steps for a process, or other formats.