Frustration as an Opportunity for Learning: Review of Literature

Andreina Yulis San Juan, Simon Fraser University, Canada,
Yumiko Murai, Simon Fraser University, Canada,

Frustration has been often observed during makerspace activities; however, only a few research studies have examined its importance during the maker process. In this literature review, we examine empirical studies where frustration has been observed in makerspaces, specifically looking at the potential of frustration to motivate learning opportunities in these spaces. We identify circumstances that lead learners to experience frustration and ways in which frustration can be used to achieve better learning outcomes in makerspaces. Based on the literature, we propose recommendations for educators and researchers on how frustration can be reoriented and used as positive reinforcement to help learners complete their activities in makerspaces.

CCS Concepts:Applied computing → Interactive learning environments; • Applied computing → Collaborative learning;

KEYWORDS: Makerspaces, frustration, learning opportunities, motivation

ACM Reference Format:
Andreina Yulis San Juan and Yumiko Murai. 2021. Frustration as an Opportunity for Learning: Review of Literature. In FabLearn Europe / MakeEd 2021 - An International Conference on Computing, Design and Making in Education (FabLearn Europe / MakeEd 2021), June 02-03, 2021, St. Gallen, Switzerland. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 8 pages.


During the process of making, all makers experience frustration one way or another. Whether LED lights do not light up after we carefully lay out paper circuits, a 3D printer does not properly print out a scaffolding for the object, or a chain-reaction machine always fails to transfer a ball to trigger the next reaction, we experience frustration when our actions and efforts to meet a goal are not producing the expected results [16]. While such experiences are inevitable for any makers [21], frustration can lead to very different educational consequences depending on how they are treated at the moment they occur. When multiple, consecutive experiences of frustration are untreated, they can lead to loss of motivation or even to loss of confidence that can have a long-term negative impact on the maker [25]. Yet frustration can also become a source for motivation or curiosity, creating an opportunity to advance learning if there is constructive support to help the maker overcome the issue that caused frustration [23,25]. Although a few empirical studies have highlighted the experiences of frustration in maker-centered activities [21,23], there is limited work specifically exploring how frustration can turn into learning opportunities. Thus, in this study we review existing works to examine (1) when and how a learner becomes frustrated in a makerspace and (2) how frustration can be resolved and lead to learning outcomes in the context of makerspaces. We offer theoretically grounded practical suggestions for educators and researchers to constructively treat frustration when planning, designing, and conducting activities in makerspaces.


During the learning process, when students are problem-solving while trying to comprehend, produce, and reason, they experience positive and negative cognitive-affective states directly connected to their motivation [16]. Graesser & D'Mello [16] call these states “learning-centered emotions” and frustration is one of the cognitive-affective states often recognized in the learning process along with confusion, boredom, engagement, flow, curiosity, anxiety, delight, and surprise.

Frustration occurs when an individual is obstructed from reaching a goal, which leads to escalated efforts to overcome the barrier, increasing the emotional response with each try [9]. Depending on the intensity of the emotional response, the result can be “aggression, withdrawal, regression, resistance, anger, guilt and remorse, shame and embarrassment” [9], which is why frustration is often considered a negative emotion [21,25]. However, frustration can also turn into motivation, enabling learners to keep working to reach their goals.

2.1 The psychological nature of frustration

Understanding the nature of frustration and its impact on the individual has been a topic of interest for psychology researchers for many decades. For example, Wong [26] studied frustration as an emotion that elicits information-seeking behaviors. He indicated that frustration that comes from uncertainty motivates exploration, and that frustration plays a key role in instrumental learning. His work builds on Berlyne's [2] research on the connections between arousal and frustration. Arousal comes as a stimulus to complete an activity, when something is challenging, and you have to prove to yourself that you can meet the challenge. Frustration occurs when the individual is blocked from completing this challenge. Britt and Janus [9] see frustration as a process in which a frustrating situation generates a reaction in the individual. The reaction would depend on and is related to expectations regarding the reward that meeting the goal would provide. A balance between effort and reward (in the form of prizes or emotions linked to accomplishment), must be present for the activity elicit positive stimuli: in this case, overcoming the barrier and completing the challenge. Berlyne [2] identifies two types of frustration: one that comes from not having a goal that represses arousal, and another in which either an extrinsic or intrinsic goal generates enough conflict to induce an arousal state. In this second situation, frustration can be used to motivate learning.

Amsel [1] has studied the role of frustration in learning since first publishing on the topic in 1958. He proposed “frustration theory” which states that an individual facing frustration and uncertainty becomes persistent when they learn how to continue pursuing a goal. Persistence, then, is an attraction towards things that we acquire under hard conditions [1]. Vongkulluksn et al. [25] examined positive and negative achievement emotions (e.g., excitement versus frustration), in which “states of activation refer to whether the emotion tended to spur or suppress cognitive activity.” [25], in the case of frustration, it can either lead to the abandonment of the activity or encourage the individual to move forward, adjusting to a new situation, a new knowledge [9]. Moreover, Graesser & D'Mello[16] posit that during the learning process, the individual is in a state of “cognitive disequilibrium” [16], shifting from positive to negative emotions and to different states of activation for each emotion until “equilibrium is restored, disequilibrium is dampened, or the student disengages from the task” [16]. In other words, the student either moves forward, loses interest, or leaves the activity.

Frustration, curiosity, wonder, and joy are all expressions of engagement and levels of motivation in makerspaces [3]. These environments provide opportunities to experience levels of frustration and excitement through iterative design cycles [5], generating states of cognitive disequilibrium in the learner. Not taking action to address frustration, could affect the outcome of the activity [25].

2.2 Frustration as a learning opportunity

Frustration can be a great motivator if it is framed as a positive experience. It can also be associated with the notion of “discipline with enjoyment” from Freire [7] or “hard fun” proposed by Papert [22], referring to learning tasks that require some effort from the learner to gain knowledge. Such experience involves pleasure and fun, but also hard work to master difficult content. This is broadly recognized in literature in Game-Based Learning (GBL) research. In GBL, frustration is often built into the game experience to set the difficulty of the tasks, creating balance between effort and reward that motivates players to replay until they have managed to complete the challenge [13,15].

Frustration is not the same as failure, since failure is a possible outcome of the activity when the goal has not been met (e.g., not being able to control a toy car from the computer using just coding). Although failure can be used to motivate a deeper review of the content and process after the activity has ended, Maltese et al. [21] reported that 32% of the survey respondents in their study would quit the project when they could not meet the outcome goal, and 20% experienced negative emotional responses such as frustration when failing. Both failure and frustration impact a learner's self-image; however, unlike failure that is often experienced at the end of the activity, frustration can happen any time during the activity and affect continuation of the activity. Maltese et al. [21] indicate that in a successful makerspace activity, the main goal should be for students to complete the activity and not succumb to frustration, rather than meeting the activities’ outcome goal, since the student has been learning during the whole process. Understanding when do learners get frustrated, why and how people deal with frustration, and how and when frustration can support learning outcomes in the context of makerspaces is crucial to help reorient the student and complete the activity.

As the discussion has shown, frustration is a very common experience in makerspaces, usually observed by researchers during maker activities. However, not enough research broadly discusses the effect of frustration on maker-centered learning. Just one paper [25], has addressed the importance of this emotion for the development and outcome of activities in makerspaces, even though it is not the main focus of the paper.


This literature review is part of a larger research study on learning outcomes and assessment in makerspaces. The initial search for the larger study was conducted using EBSCOhost, Academic Search Premier, APA PsycInfo, Education Source, and ERIC databases. Since maker education is often studied in non-academic venues, we also used Google Scholar to capture a wider set of papers not in the academic databases. Our search included the terms [(self assessment or self evaluation or self reflection) AND classroom AND maker]. We looked at the titles and abstracts of the papers to find those addressing makerspaces in K-12 schools. We then used the snowball method, looking up relevant pieces of literature cited in the papers we selected. Through this process, we found 48 papers that included empirical evidence on learning outcomes in makerspaces. While reviewing these papers, we noticed that observations of frustration in the makerspace kept reoccurring in different studies. We then revisited the literature to specifically review the term “frustration” in any part of the document for all the selected articles, which gave us 16 articles.

Following this process, we conducted a supplementary search of the same databases listed above using the terms [‘frustration’ AND ‘makerspaces’] for papers up to 2020, but that search yielded only one result. The same search in Google Scholar produced 3100 documents. We looked at the results from the first five pages in Google Scholar. Most of the articles were repeated from the ones that we had already selected; 2 additional articles came from this search.

After reviewing abstracts and specific sections mentioning frustration, we included papers if they addressed frustration in the context of the learner's experience as interfering with the completion of the activity. Papers were excluded if they mentioned only the educators’ or researchers' frustration. One paper was excluded because it was not specific to makerspaces. One additional paper was included even though it did not mention the word frustration, but it talked about students facing obstacles. As a result, 13 papers listed below (Table 1) were included for this review.

Table 1: Articles reviewed
Author Year Makerspace program Participants
Bevan, Gutwill, Petrich, and Wilkinson 2015 Museum-based program Broad age-range learners
Blikstein 2013 School-based program Broad age-range students
Blikstein, Kabayadondo, Martin, and Fields 2017 School-based program Grade 4-12 students
Calabrese Barton, Tan, Greenberg 2016 Afterschool program Grade 7-9 students
Chou 2018 School-based program Grade 5 students
Chu, Quek, Bhangaonkar, Boettcher, Sridharamurthy 2015 School-based program Grade 2-6 students
Fields, Lui, and Kafai 2019 School-based program Grade 10-12 students
Harron & Hughes 2018 School-based program K-12 maker educators
Kajamaa & Kumpulainen 2019 School-based program Grade 5 students
Kumpulainen, Burke, Yaman, and Burcu 2020 School-based program Grade 3-6 students
Maltese, Simpson, and Anderson 2018 School-based program K-12 maker educators
Sheridan, Halverson, Litts, Brahms, Jacobs-Priebe, and Owens 2014 Community-based program Broad age-range learners
Vongkulluksn, Matewos, Sinatra, and Marsh 2018 School-based program Grade 3 & 6 students

A qualitative thematic analysis of the papers was performed. Thematic analysis is a “method for identifying, analyzing, and reporting patterns (themes) within data” [8]. This is a flexible method that allowed for an open search and organization of themes to help answer the following research questions: first, identify specific areas of frustration during makerspace activities; second, understand how this frustration impacted students and activities; and third, determine whether frustration was considered a learning experience.


This section summarizes the results from our literature review, providing insights into our research goals concerning how frustration happens in a makerspace and how it can be channeled into meaningful learning experiences.

4.1 When and how does a learner get frustrated in a makerspace?

The literature review highlighted several factors intrinsic to makerspaces that often lead students participating on these activities to a state of frustration: open-endedness, time constraints, collaboration, iteration, lack of skills and knowledge, outcome expectation, and unfamiliar pedagogical approach.

4.1.1 Open-endedness. One of the commonly identified factors leading to learner frustration was open-endedness of learning activities. While maker-education pedagogy, informed by constructionism, emphasizes the importance of open exploration [17], many participants in these studies struggled from having to think about and propose their own activities and goals during the makerspace. From a study surveying 107 formal and informal maker educators in the U.S.A on how youth experience failure in makerspaces, Maltese et al. [21] reported that the open-ended nature of maker activities often leads to frustration. Without having a clear path or goals, students—particularly middle-school-aged—tended to struggle to make decisions on what to do next to achieve their goals. The study also reported that students often overestimated their own skills or the time to complete each stage of their projects and ended up not being able to complete what they expected to complete in time. Moreover, Kajamaa & Kumpulainen's [19] study of 5th-graders working in a makerspace during a school semester in Finland corroborated that students often desired direct instruction on how to complete the activity. Students new to makerspaces were looking for a script, a guided way on how to complete the activity, and were confused by the non-sequentially of activities that required them to "navigate and integrate knowledge from different resources and domains" [19]. This raises the question: to what extent should open-endedness be provided for students to inspire meaningful learning [19].

4.1.2 Time constraints. Another factor was time constraints to complete activities. In the study by Maltese et al. [21], 16% of their survey respondents mentioned that frustration is often triggered and intensified by time constraints, whether at formal or informal learning spaces where they were pressured to move on by adults or other external factors. Vongkulluksn et al. [25] conducted a survey to study the experience of two groups of students (grades 3 and 6) in a design-based makerspace course. This study measured frustration, confusion, excitement, and curiosity during the activities using a Likert scale on self-efficacy, situational interest, and achievement emotion. The study revealed that students in their mid-semester interviews expressed frustration caused by the limited time they had to complete their projects. They found that time constraints affected student frustration in different ways depending on their level of situational interest. Students in the lower-level class were more how they could implement different strategies to overcome the time limit, whereas students in the higher-level class were much more focused on what they could not accomplish in the time assigned. In other words, their study showed that time constraints appeared to be a more critical problem for higher-level students than for lower-level students.

4.1.3 Collaboration. Most activities in makerspaces are designed as collaborative learning which presents opportunities for students to construct on each other's ideas and skills. However, some research notes that group work can also lead to frustration. While interviewing participants from member-based, community, and museum makerspaces —including different types of learners such as adults, youth, and young children and their families— Sheridan [23] found that makers often get frustrated when they receive unsolicited comments or advice from others. In some cases, they are at a stage where they do not need advice yet, and any comment on their process can trigger frustration. Participants in this study also mentioned that the number of people working in a space affected their ability to concentrate. Kajamaa et al. [19] noticed that students became frustrated during collaborative activities when they did not agree with each other on the possible solutions or path to complete an activity. Documenting the collaborative work of five 5th-grade female students during a semester-long digital makerspace called FUSE studio, they observed that frustration and lack of motivation came from tensions emerging while group members interacted with the different makerspace activities. Blikstein [5] summarized observations from various FabLabs, (digital fabrication labs) in school settings, reporting that when learners with different skill levels are paired, the ones with more expertise tend to take main tasks on themselves and leave less experienced learners with mundane tasks. This often leads to frustration and dropout.

4.1.4 Iteration. The iterative nature of the makerspace activities has also been noted as a source of frustration. Chu et al. [12] analyzed the overall experience of children, aged eight to eleven when participating in a makerspace storytelling activity related to theater. They classified the experience into three affective states: fun and excitement, tension, and frustration and boredom. Experiences in this last category were identified when the students were having usability issues that made them repeat the action. Especially when the action was time-consuming, for example when they had to repeatedly repair a circuit and still could not make it work, students felt their effort was not being rewarded because they were no closer to accomplishing the activity goal. Iteration also appears as a trigger for frustration in Vongkulluksn et al.’s [22] study of a design-based makerspace. For two groups of students, grades 3 and 6, the researchers measured and compared different emotions (including frustration) using think-aloud methods, observation, and surveys at the beginning, middle, and end of the semester. Frustration was more evident in the older group, the impact of repeated failure during the iterative cycles lead to students losing interest in succeeding with the activity.

4.1.5 Lack of skills/knowledge. Activities in makerspaces require integrating and assimilating content from different areas, but students are not always prepared for interdisciplinary learning [16]. Vongkulluksn et al.’s [25] study also found that lack of knowledge can invite feelings of frustration undermining self-efficacy and motivation.

Students' lack of knowledge of, or limited abilities in, exploration and fabrication technologies (EFT) can also generate frustration [6]. Blikstein et al., [6] studied maker-students in grades 4 to 12 from five schools in the US, Mexico, and Australia using self-report questionnaires. One of the reasons students experienced frustration was that they did not have sufficient technological knowledge even though they were familiar with the basics of computing [6]. The study concluded that while students tend to be considered technology natives who know or understand technologies easily, EFT knowledge requires other set of skills which they usually need to learn. In the survey by Maltese et al. [21], maker educators revealed that projects including high-tech tools such as 3D printers, coding, and soldering —as well as projects including little to no technology such as woodworking— can also cause frustration. Wood and other low-tech materials that had less flexibility for iterations and remodeling tended to cause more frustration as mistakes could easily lead to large time loss. Similarly, some high-tech tools such as electronic wiring could also cause frustration because troubleshooting required higher knowledge and skills the students might not have. Acquiring these skills requires time that is usually not considered during the design of the activities. Vongkulluksn et al. [25] also pointed out that frustration occurs when learners experience loss of control over the activity, emphasizing the need for basic skills and knowledge support in the makerspace.

4.1.6 Outcome expectation. High expectations regarding the outcome of the makerspace activity can promote frustration. Activities in makerspaces are often evaluated based on the end products, despite the fact that traditional summative assessment does not capture the learnings taking place in makerspaces [6]. The most common form of outcome expectation connected to frustration is letter grade assessment. Students start becoming frustrated when they realize they will not be able to complete the project in time or if they are not meeting the initial goals [25]. Stiggins [24] proposes that the use of formative assessment could prevent frustration because students would be able to identify ways to continue working to reach their goals.

In many cases, the maker activity ends with a showcase of the finished artifact, which Maltese et al.’s [21] study revealed as a source of frustration. For 28% of their survey maker-educator respondents having a public display of the product led to greater frustration for students having to present their work, compare it to others’ work, or not be able to finish their artifact on time.

4.1.7 Unfamiliar pedagogical approach. Finally, learners can become frustrated when they are used to a pedagogical approach that is largely different from maker-centered learning, such as more teacher-driven or instructionist learning. Harron and Hughes [18] conducted an interview study with 12 K-12 maker educators, in which one of the educators described how hard it is for them to “break [the students] of that [schedules and testing] when they are 14,” adding that some students were failing her class because of a lack of familiarity with the maker learning style. In another study conducted by Chou [11] on a Robot Makerspace, the 5th-grade students from a public school in Taiwan were expected to be in charge of their learning and move forward with limited facilitation, but several of the students were struggling with these notions, which forced the educator to assume an instructor role. In the maker style, exploration and coming up with one's own ideas is often encouraged, which might overwhelm students not used to this pedagogy.

4.2 How can frustration be resolved and lead to learning outcomes in the context of makerspaces?

Our review of the literature on frustration in makerspaces revealed four major ways frustration can be resolved and lead to positive learning experiences.

4.2.1 Better communication with educators. Several studies mentioned that scaffolding and timely intervention by educators are the key to resolving frustration and using it as positive energy for learning while designing and conducting makerspace activities. For example, Maltese et al. [21] reveal that teachers’ role in reminding and coaching students on the notion of failure is an important part of learning new materials and overcoming frustration. In addition, Vongkulluksn et al. [25] mention that incorporating scaffolds during the activity could help students deal with confusion that often results in frustration. While design of maker activities as iterative processes exposes the students to frustration and failure throughout the activities, teachers can prepare students to face and understand frustration and help them benefit from their exposure to this emotion. Kumplainen et al. [20] indicate that when students are not provided with adequate support at an appropriate time, they can become demotivated and abandon the activity. Video-recording 94 students aged 9 to 12 during a semester makerspace in Finland, the researchers observed how some of them become frustrated with the complexity of the instructions and materials. In this case, the teacher acted as an instructor, contrary to a facilitator, urging them to finish the activity instead of helping them on their analysis and reflection. This led students to become alienated and show disinterest in the activity because they perceived they were not getting the required help. Assessment researcher Richard Stiggins [24] supports these insights by claiming that formative assessment and continuous conversation between students and teachers as well as students’ families, about their achievement status and improvement can help students get through frustration or hopelessness. Thus, teacher intervention in coping with frustration in maker spaces is crucial for students to continue being engaged in these learning activities.

4.2.2 Norm setting for accepting failure, troubleshooting, and iteration. Another approach often discussed by researchers was the importance of setting the right expectations and norms around the fact that maker-centered learning involves much failure and troubleshooting as well as iteration. Bevan et al. [3] designed and conducted the Tinkering Studio makerspace as an afterschool program for two years, targeting participants from a broad age range. Their analysis of video data suggested that students need to be reminded of the importance of iteration in developing their understanding, and educators also need to be comfortable with it, even when it might take time and make students frustrated because they are not advancing. Consequently, Maltese et al. [21] reported that some students who were comfortable with failures and modifying their plans were able to get excited by failures in a makerspace. Blikstein [5], on the other hand, warns that while learning from mistakes can be a powerful strategy, students do not always learn from their own mistakes, suggesting that educators need to find the right level and number of frustrating experiences for their students and their learning contexts. These examples highlight the importance of helping students internalize such norms; knowing that they can fail and adjust their paths is important to overcome frustration in makerspaces.

4.2.3 Personal commitment. In addition, personal connection and investment in a project can also work as a supportive factor to overcome frustration. Fields et al. [14] conducted an eight-week makerspace on electronic textiles in two public high schools. They reported that helping students personalize their project has a great motivational effect on students: encouraging them to push through obstacles like problems with the coding or lack of sewing skills, and to finish their artifacts. Similar results were revealed by Calabrese Barton et al. [10] in their two-year critical ethnography study of STEM community makerspaces for minority youth. They shared their observations from a project that two middle-school females were developing: a survey to identify a problem in their community and in this way, giving the students voice and agency. They noted how the two students became frustrated many times during the activity, sometimes even leaving the space. Frustration came from not knowing the materials or not being able to complete a step, but because the goal was personal to them, they kept coming back to try to finish the project. Beavan et al. [3] also pointed out that when students are intrinsically motivated, they tend to persist when experiencing frustration. Thus, it is crucial to design activities focusing on students’ interests and contexts, to help them connect personally with the activities.

4.2.4 Confidence and Skills. Finally, a number of studies observed that skill and confidence development are key to helping students overcome frustration in makerspaces. For example, Vongkulluksn et al. [25] indicated that students’ efficacy beliefs affect the ability of learners to turn frustration into opportunities for inquiry and learning. They point out that frustration occurs when learners experience loss of control over the activity. Kajamaa and Kumpulainen [19] suggested that as their students developed content expertise by working on the different maker activities in the FUSE studio, their frequency and level of frustration decreased. The students were more focused and collaborated better. The researchers explained that this confidence in their own skills and knowledge can be cultivated through iterative cycles and become a positive cycle for learning. Harron and Hughes [18] mentioned that students' confidence can also increase when an educator uses praise and acknowledgment. These studies show that self-efficacy should be incorporated into the student's process in maker activities to overcome the experience of frustration.


Through our literature review, we were able to paint a more comprehensive picture of how frustration happens and might impact learning experiences in makerspaces. Most authors we reviewed mentioned frustration as something that they have observed from students participating in each activity, but they did not address it as part of the maker process or mention its importance for the success of the activity. Only Vongkulluksn et al. [25] seemed to have investigated frustration independently, identifying it as an emotion related to situational interest.

The literature we examined showed that frustration is often initiated when students face barriers preventing them from reaching the activity's goal [9]. This review has revealed a variety of situations that can create these barriers in makerspaces and trigger frustration: tensions that arise between people involved in the activity, either peers or educators; unfamiliarity with the tools and materials; lack of clear instructions and goals; inability to evaluate their skills and/or time constraints; their prior experience as learners in a school setting, motivated by grades and with prescribed activities; and finally from some of the inherent characteristics of makerspaces, such as iterative processes that require many repeated tries and errors.

We also learned that educators can overlook frustration if they believe that, since makerspaces are student-centered, students do not need guidance [11]. However, our review has shown that frustration is a result of various struggles students are experiencing, thus educators must play an active role as facilitators to mitigate frustration and create a meaningful maker experience [18]. Educators can provide support in assisting students to overcome frustration at several instances during the maker process: from planning and designing the activity, to implementation, to assessment, and finally to reflection on the process they followed [23].

From this literature, we introduce practical strategies below for educators in each stage of making activity: at the beginning, during the activity, and at the end.

5.1 At the beginning

Our review has underscored the importance of educators’ support for students in estimating the knowledge, skills, and time constraints required for completing projects to minimize the possibility of students experiencing frustration. Makerspace activities are student-centered, students have greater freedom to select the activity they want to develop during learning experiences. This freedom can impact the outcome of the activity because students are not always aware of the requirements, in terms of skills and time, that they need to complete it; they could choose activities above their level of expertise or that cannot be completed in the allocated time [21]. Vongkulluksn et al. [25] propose that at the beginning of the activity, when the student is selecting what to do, the teacher can offer a list of activities or guidance on activities that students can accomplish successfully given their level of expertise and duration of the activity, managing expectations of their own abilities.

Adjusting instructions and learning goals, thus enabling students to understand the paths they can take to achieve their goals while revising them continuously is another strategy to help students move forward without getting stuck in the frustration process [24]. When instructions are too complex, all the students’ efforts are concentrated on understanding them and the procedures more than focusing on the activity itself, affecting their motivation and promoting frustration [20]. Since frustration is goal-oriented, prompted from not being able to achieve the goal, motivating students to set clear achievable goals is essential for successfully completing any project in a makerspace [21].

Furthermore, educators need to make sure the activity is contextualized to students’ own interests and that students can identify the goals and make them personal. If students can establish ownership of the design and goals they are working for, they can develop persistence which will help them complete the activity [14]. Goals can be intrinsic (where students want to finish the activity because completing it means something personal for them) or extrinsic (a reward is associated with the completion of the activity, triggering the arousal state defined by Berlyne [2]). Sheridan et al. [23] indicate that one extrinsic goal could be to show their peers, parents, and/or teachers the product from their efforts in the makerspace activity. This is supported by Stiggins [24] who mentions that when students are actively communicating their improvements to their community, they tend to keep learning and gain confidence and do not abandon the project due to frustration. The external reward could also be connected to a challenge: for example, Chou [11] proposed a robot competition at the end of a 16-week Robot makerspace, which helped motivate the grade 5 students participating in this study to finish their robots.

While all these elements should be considered when planning a makerspace activity, it is also very important to set expectations from the beginning. Students have to understand “that studying is difficult and demanding” [4]. They will need to invest some effort into the experience to gain the knowledge and pleasure that comes from completing the activity.

5.2 During the activity

Another strategy drawn from the literature on makerspaces is to break activities down into steps so students can experience small successes from time to time, keeping themselves interested in continuing and completing the makerspace activity. Along these lines, results of Vongkulluksn et al.'s [25] research showed that students are not necessarily interested in the activity from the beginning; further, even when students show interest at the beginning, it does not mean that interest will maintain over time. According to the authors, interest is "the result of a number of successful experiences throughout which promotes motivation and engagement with the activity" [25]. On the contrary, for every step of the activity that leads to failure, the probability of eliciting frustration that leads to abandoning the maker activity is greater. Including scaffolding when designing the makerspace activity is one way the educator can ensure successful completion of the different steps, and help students reach the next challenge. To design effective scaffolding, Wong [26] indicates that “there should be an optimal discrepancy between successive steps for the exploratory tendency to reach its maximum strength” [26]. When an activity is too challenging, students freeze, do not respond, and are likely to abandon the activity. When an activity is too easy, they can lose interest. Students need to experience the pleasure that comes from success when completing something that is challenging for them by persisting until the final goal is reached [1].

In addition, novices in makerspaces need considerable orientation and guidance, because when there is much uncertainty, students often get lost and feel frustrated [6]. The 5th-grade students in Chou's [11] Robot Makerspace were struggling with the knowledge and time they needed to complete the activity therefore, the teacher had to include a full lesson to introduce key skills that would help the students with the design and development of the robots. This helped the students propose solutions that lead them to achieve the activity's learning goals. Nevertheless, the teacher must also be able to identify when help is needed, and give only as much information as requested by asking if the student wants to know more. Sheridan et al. [23] found out that makerspace participants get frustrated when advice is offered when they do not request it, or when they are in the process of solving a problem and the answer is provided before they have a chance to work on the problem.

Lastly, group collaboration must be guided to make sure students can have positive interactions, as social interaction can positively or negatively impact the experience of frustration in the makerspace. Educators can introduce leadership skills and provide all learners in a group with opportunities to speak and take credit for their work [19]. When the 5th-grade students in Kajamaa and Kumpulainen's [19] study were starting to work on activities, they focused on the instructions and tools to complete the makerspace activity. They did not coordinate their work or plan accordingly, which created tension, frustration, and disappointment affecting their motivation. When the students started to search for ways to collaborate, the tension diminished as did the other negative feelings, including frustration.

5.3 At the end

Our review also highlighted the importance of maker educators encouraging students to focus on the process not just on the outcome. Maltese et al. [21] mention that a successful activity in a makerspace is the one that is completed. Makerspace activities are not linear and are usually the result of collaborative efforts; since the end-product does not always look as intended, focusing on the outcome acknowledges a very narrow perspective on the learnings involved. When students are documenting their process, educators can encourage them to learn from their mistakes and the obstacles they faced during the activity by reflecting on them after it is over. This way, frustration can be turned into a learning motivator, because the students are not focused on the evaluation of a “successful” makerspace product.


Experiences of frustration have been documented in the literature on maker education, but a limited number of works have explored it as an opportunity to support learning during the maker-centered learning process. From our literature review, we were able to bring together experiences from multiple empirical studies and expand our understanding of the values of frustration in makerspaces as an educational opportunity.

This review of literature highlighted multiple factors that can lead to frustration in makerspaces. Frustration can occur when students are unable to propose an activity that takes into account their skill level and the duration of the activity. It can also be expressed when students are completing activities in groups, when tensions arise from having to ideate collaboratively and not being able to agree, or if their ideas are not being considered. It can also appear when students have been trying to achieve a step unsuccessfully which prevents them from moving forward. Reviewing the factors of frustration, we noticed that frustration can be considered a sign of a challenge students are encountering at that moment. Maker-educators can consider the sign of frustration as an alert system that requires immediate reaction to help students maintain their motivation for and progress in the activity. Depending on how educators react when they identify students’ frustration, that moment can lead to a positive or negative outcome: either motivating the student to continue moving forward or making them reject the activity and leave the makerspace. Thus, encouragement and support for students during frustrating experience helps them overcome frustration, remain engaged with the activity and achieve their goals [7].

In addition, our review revealed potential strategies to support the practitioner in makerspaces at different stages of the activity. Negative situations like those discussed above can be prevented if the educator assists the students when planning the activity, either providing some possibilities or guiding them to acknowledge their skill and time constraints, while helping students set personal goals that encourage them to complete the activity. Students also require continuous support from the educator during the totality of the maker process. The educator plays an active role during the activity: providing scaffolds, encouraging students to keep working, overseeing collaboration in group work, and documenting progress as students move forward and reach the end of the maker activity.

These findings present valuable insights. For educators in makerspace, which emphasize learning as a process, supporting students to overcome frustration is a crucial survival skill, allowing them to sustain their participation in this ongoing learning experience. Based on the literature we reviewed, we have proposed practical suggestions on how and when to support students during the maker process to generate positive outcomes from frustration, while also providing guidelines to consider during planning, designing, and conducting activities in the makerspace to take advantage of this emotional process. For researchers designing studies of makerspaces or analyzing data from those studies, these findings may be helpful in showing how frustration can be a critical turning point of students in their learning process that is worth full attention.


Some limitations of this paper should be noted. First, our search for literature largely relied on academic databases, but since studies on maker education are broadly published on both academic and non-academic venues, we may have missed some related studies. We might have been able to expand our coverage of literature if we had searched for papers using broader synonyms for frustration. In the future, we would explore literature using broader key terms from sources including books, reports, and other media such as blog posts or articles to gain further practical insights on the topic of frustration. Second, all practical suggestions presented in this paper come from the literature we reviewed, covering studies working with children in wide age ranges. Children at different age levels may respond to frustration differently. Thus, future research could compare and examine how different age groups might experience frustration.


This study draws on research supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Simon Fraser University.


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