Differences between STEM and STEAM

STEM and STEAM education are two applications of the engagement theory of learning. The inception of STEM education happened first to provide students learning subjects related to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics an engaging learning experience. The engagement theory of learning is based on the belief that students will learn better when they are intrinsically motivated to be engaged in the learning process through meaningful activities that would help them utilize their cognitive abilities and decision-making skills.

STEM and STEAM are related as applications of the engagement learning theory. However, they are distinctive from each other in the overall effect. STEAM education is also considered as an update or improvement to the STEM system by including arts-related subjects in the STEM system.

What is STEM?

As an approach towards education, STEM directly applies the engagement theory of learning. STEM applies to technology-driven or technology-related subjects such as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics or their applications thereof. STEM follows a strictly scientific and technology-oriented approach by which students collaborate to and use technology to relate to a real-world problem at hand. By connecting to a problem, they can understand why things happen or their science. The following step in STEM education is to use technology and technical skills to create a solution or a tool to solve the problem. Thirdly, STEM education focuses on real-world issues, so an essential aspect of STEM is collaborating with a real-world 3rd party customer to whom the students could donate their work.

This threefold scientific approach involving relation, creation, and donation helps students feel more responsible towards their learning. This activates their cognitive and decision-making abilities to engage more in their learning process.

STEM education aims at creating a capable workforce for jobs in all related sectors. Students these days are ten times more likely to take up STEM-related courses due to the sheer number of career openings that STEM graduates receive.

What is STEAM?

Technology is growing in a manner that the end product is designed so that the end-users can relate to this technology, whether or not they have a technical background. That means, creators of these technologies have to be proficient artistically. Artistic proficiency in this context refers not only to ability in fine arts but also to soft skills such as people management, communication skills, and adaptivity. This is what goes into the creation of user-friendly technology. An example of user-friendly technology is SelfCAD. SelfCAD features intuitive and user-friendly tools along with free tutorials that help novice users learn 3D design and 3d printing skills and edtech tools for teachers and students to fast-track careers in 3D designing.

STEAM education incorporates artistic and creative approaches through data visualization or fine art imagery to deepen their understanding of STEM concepts.

What is the need for either system?

Both systems intrinsically motivate students to be engaged in the learning process by activating their cognitive thinking and decision-making skills by employing meaningful activities. Both are based on the belief that intrinsically motivated students can use their cognitive abilities and decision-making skills to get the required experience in their field through engaged learning. STEM caters only to the needs of students learning subjects related to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Arts subjects such as fine arts, literature, theatre art, music are equally important in creating a smoothly functioning world by using creativity to balance the exhausting order and structure created by technology and information. The creator of STEAM education intends to achieve a state of fluidity in terms of the general functioning of the planet. Creators of STEAM have realized the importance of creativity in eliminating the monotony and slower speeds of technical jobs.

While STEM relies entirely on technology and science-based research to understand problems and create solutions, STEAM follows a more adaptive and creative approach towards problem-solving. Although there is an order to how issues are approached in STEAM, the procedure can be best described as adaptive, whereby solving of problems happens in a faster manner.

STEM or STEAM, which offers the best Career Paths?

Consider the example of Amazon Alexa. It is a virtual assistant technology for home automation. Alexa can be configured to suit the cultural and social preferences of the end-user. This software incorporates multiple voice modulations, understands numerous cultural references, and can respond to open-ended questions. Developing technology like this cannot be achieved by STEM skills alone. The ideation, conceptualization, programming, testing, and designing require artistic creativity. STEM skills would only find application in the programming and production aspects of technology like Alexa.

In simple terms, a STEM professional would find better job prospects if they equip themselves with the right, artistic training. To make it even simpler, STEAM offers better career paths compared to STEM.

What are the major differences between STEM and STEAM?

  • Integration of soft skills: This is the key factor differentiating STEM and STEAM. STEAM education gives equal importance to soft skill development and the development of STEM skills. Soft skills such as communication, leadership, critical thinking, and artistic skills such as art, literature, or music are given the same importance as technology-oriented subjects such as engineering. 

On the other hand, STEM focuses purely on developing technical skills that make students well suited for roles in workforces of engineering or technology-oriented jobs such as construction or heavy engineering. These areas have not developed to the extent in which soft skill development is not important.

Although they are based on similar concepts, STEM and STEAM cater to the needs of entirely different job sectors.

  • The difference in approach: Both STEM and STEAM follow a sequenced approach towards any problem but the scope of learning differs in each case. STEM learning makes the problem relatable to the students through research, discussion, and trials. The information thus gathered is used to create a solution donated to a real-world customer.

STEAM, on the other hand, requires students to revisit their studies and bridge any gaps in technology or adapt to changes as and when they arise.STEAM learning uses soft skills and artistic skills in tandem with STEM skills to understand problems and the science behind them better. This makes them better analyzers. The varied approaches allow STEAM students to develop technology that is more user-friendly.

  • Career paths: The varied approaches and methodologies lead to various career paths. STEM jobs are limited to technologies where the end-user is not a layman. Technology and tools for scientific employment must be more functional and accurate than user-friendly.  STEM students would have more time to develop tools like this instead of focusing on soft skill development. Careers in fields like this are still essential, and the requirement for STEM professionals is unwavering. 

On the other hand, STEAM professionals emphasize making the product user-friendly. Hence career paths for STEAM professionals lie in areas that develop personal use, such as wearable technology, smartphones, or virtual assistants.

  • Career Versatility: STEAM professionals are more versatile than STEM professionals in career paths. STEAM professionals have the STEM skills to take up careers that STEM professionals take up. STEM professionals, on the other hand, do not have the soft skills needed to take up STEAM jobs.
  • Learning outcomes: Learning outcomes vary for both STEM and STEAM. While learning outcomes of STEM are more inclined towards the technical side of things, STEM students learn about the technology, its uses, and how it can be controlled. STEAM gives equal importance to developing soft skills such as communication, leadership, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
  • Adaptivity: STEAM learners are more adaptive to changes in preferences or technologies as they must revisit their steps at every stage of their work. STEM learners follow a more linear approach to their work, focusing less on adaptivity.
  • Integral Connections: STEAM technologies require developers to connect important technical aspects with artistic aspects. These could be cultural preferences or language preferences of a customer group.

The work of STEM developers, on the other hand, is out of scope for cultural or social requirements such as language.

  • Integrity: Integrity is an integral part of STEAM learning. STEAM learning requires students to create original solutions or technology that match the requirements of users based on social or cultural factors. 

STEM learning does not incorporate this value into its teachings. STEM-based technologies or solutions do not have to be original.

  • Growth:  The varied focus of STEM and STEAM learning results in mixed development between students. STEM learning prepares students for career growth only. The soft skill training provided in STEAM education creates a mindset for lifelong learning and growth in students’ minds.

Skillset/Careers for people in STEAM 

  • 3D designing
  • Graphic designing
  • Audio engineering 
  • App development

3D designing is an important skill a STEAM developer should have. Learning 3D designing is made more accessible by SelfCAD and their interactive tutorials, ideal for beginners and available for free. The tutorials become more complex, involving complex tools as you progress through skill levels. If you are an advanced 3D designer looking for robust tools, SelfCAD offers advanced tools through their Pro license, which costs $14.99 per month or $ 11.99 per month if billed annually. They also have a Perpetual license which costs $599.00 for lifetime access. Head over to their website and learn more.

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