Outcomes of Digital Making for Youth

January 1st, 2016

This article was migrated from a previous version of the Knowledge Base. The date stamp does not reflect the original publication date.


Low-cost and widely distributed technologies allow young people to make and create digital artifacts that have historically been the domain of adult professionals. Examples include videos and complex photography made using cameras and digital editing software in mobile devices and multi-player games created using online block programming environments. These activities are often referred to as media production and digital creation, but we consider them also to be instances of digital making, as youth use tools independently or collaboratively to develop an artifact. Participation in digital making activities can lead to outcomes beyond the final artifact or the ability to use a new technology tool.

Importantly, they can can position youth as creators as opposed to simply consumers in the world (Barron, Gomez, Pinkard & Martin, 2014). Intended outcomes are often linked to 21st century learning and capacities (for definitions see Partnership for 21st Century SkillsThe Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills projectNRC’s Education for Life and Work report), including the development of a creative identity, an innovative mindset, and social and technical skills and confidence.

Recognizing the importance of creating versus consuming is not new (e.g. Freire, 1970), but is increasingly relevant as mobile devices and expanded connectivity allow young people to spend their time online and with digital media. There is there is widespread interest in engaging more youth to participate in these kinds of digital making activities, including out-of-school programs with a digital making focus (e.g. Digital Youth NetworkYOUmediaComputer Clubhouse) and online opportunities with embedded resources (e.g. Chicago City of LearningScratchDIY.org). However, large-scale studies of youth activities online suggest that for most teens, playing games and using social networking sites are much more common than media creation and contribution (PEW report: Zickhur, 2010; Mascheroni & Ólafsson, 2014).

Findings from Research and Evaluation 

Qualitative and ethnographic research has indicated that sustained engagement with interest-driven digital making can be consequential for learning and development. Case studies of adolescent learners engaged in making artifacts such as websites, digital games, and videos revealed self-initiated processes linked to these activities, including seeking out material resources to learn more, the pursuit of related making projects and learning opportunities, and the development of mentoring or knowledge-sharing relationships (Barron, 2006; Barron, Wise, & Martin, 2013). Other ethnographic work has focused on youth identities, looking at how engaging in the making of digital artifacts over time, including podcasts, art, video, games, and music, led some young people to develop new ideas about their capacities as creators, their possible futures, practice-linked identities, and confidence and proficiency with digital tools (Barron, Gomez, Pinkard, & Martin, 2014; Ito et al, 2009; Peppler & Kafai, 2007).

A quantitative survey data of over 300 middle school students in Silicon Valley showed similar patterns. Those youth who reported a greater breadth and depth of digital making activities had higher reports of constructive dispositions (creative identity, confidence, proficiency), social dispositions (sharing expertise, participating in online communities, creating for social change), and critical dispositions (learns about and contributes to political and social conversation online) (Barron & Martin, 2016). Although this data is self-report and identified correlation as opposed to causal relationships, there is much to build on in future studies.

Directions for Future Research 

We ought to know more about who is making digital artifacts and how often. As such, we need more large-scale national and international queries of who is engaged in digital making and what types, both online and offline, and in informal and formal settings. New studies should cut across time and boundaries of school, home, museums, community centers, and other places in which young people spend their time, so we can better identify patterns, trends, barriers, and opportunities.

We also need more robust quantitative explorations of outcomes related to digital making, including studies that can make causal claims. This work may use more traditional methods such as validated survey measures (e.g. PACT computational thinking assessment) as well as exploring other approaches to measuring outcomes such as applying learning analytics to online user trace log data.

Cutting across all future research, there is a critical need to think about equity in digital making. Opportunities and supports that can provide inspiration and sustain participation are essential to digital making projects (Barron, Gomez, Pinkard & Martin, 2014). There is evidence that these types of supportive, resourced, and generative learning opportunities and environments are not equally distributed for all young people (Warschauer & Matuchniak, 2010; see “Making” the Shift: Changing the Conversation around “Equity in Making” entry). If digital making is related to outcomes of productive participation in 21st century, we need to ensure that all youth have opportunities to participate.


Barron. B. (2006). Interest and self-sustained learning as catalysts of development: A learning ecologies perspective. Human Development, 49, 193-224.

Barron, B., Gomez, K., Pinkard, N., & Martin, C.K. (2014). The Digital Youth Network: Cultivating digital media citizenship in urban communities. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Barron and Martin (2016). Making matters: A framework for assessing digital media citizenship. In K. Peppler, Kafai, Y. & E. Halverson (Eds) Makeology (Vol 2): Makers as learners. New York, NY: Routledge.

Ito, M., Antin, J., Finn, M., Law, A., Manion, A., Mitnick, S., … & Horst, H. A. (2009). Hanging out, messing around, and geeking out: Kids living and learning with new media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Peppler K., & Kafai Y. (2007). From SuperGoo to Scratch: Exploring creative digital media production in informal learning. Media, Learning, and Technology, 32(2), 149-66.