Create & Share Interactive 3D Learning Objects

by Sketchfab For Science


A learning object is defined by The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) as “any entity, digital or non-digital, that may be used for learning, education or training”.[1]

In addition to traditional learning objects, studies have been published relating to the use of static 3D models in conjunction with interactive 3d platforms such as Second Life.[2] and virtual worlds in distance learning environments.[3More recently, the Smithsonian Institute has incorporated the use of interactive 3D in conjunction with laser scans of their collections.[4]

Sketchfab, recently approved by Facebook for their 3D embed codes, has all the tools needed to create and share interactive 3D learning objects.  In addition to accepting a wide range of 3d formats and scientific data, one can annotate the models using their built-in tools. Recent upgrades to their system make it possible to upload animations generated in other professional animation and scientific software.

Here we describe a method of using Sketchfab as a tool in the design of interactive 3D learning objects (I3DLO).   Likewise, we demonstrate ways of using these I3DLO in online publications, sharing via social media and within e-learning software platforms.

Interactive Learning Objects for Online Articles

In the scientific community, many 3D viewers have been developed which allow researchers to view atomic structures.   Many of these structures are very large and difficult to share via social media.  Indeed, tutorials explaining how to use molecular imaging software normally involve the use images or videos.  Having found a method of reducing the noise level in 3DS Max, we examined if we could use Sketchfab to effectively communicate the results online using interactive 3D learning objects.  These studies were done using outputs directly generated from the scientific software. Click here to view

2015-12-06 04_37_07-Sketchfab For Science - Cryo-EM Structures into Sketchfab – Noise Reduction

Case study no. 1 – Using Sketchfab Interactive Learning Objects in Online Articles

As shown in the case study above, it may now be possible to use Sketchfab within the scientific community to describe how to use complex scientific software using real data (eg. cryo-em maps).

Interactive Learning Objects For e-Learning

As shown above, interactive 3d learning objects can effectively be embedded into online articles.  In e-learning, the ability to gauge the effectiveness of a given learning object is made possible via the incorporation of learning management systems (LMS).  Quizzes, test, etc can be used to measure the usefulness of interactive 3D learning technologies.  Thus, we are testing if  interactive learning objects can be used in e-learning software such Adobe Captivate.  Using the online content found in Case Study No. 1, we produced an e-learning module in Adobe Captivate.  Click here to view

 2015-12-06 05_00_59-Sketchfab For Science - Sketchfab & Adobe Captivate

Using Sketchfab Interactive Learning Objects in Adobe Captivate

Sketchfab is the fastest growing 3D warehouse in the world.  Models are being uploaded and annotated in every category imaginable. As shown here, Sketchfab may become a robust source of annotated interactive 3D learning objects for use within the e-learning field. Used in conjunction with learning management systems and testing technologies, it will be possible to measure their effectiveness in the learning process.


Using Facebook as a Data-Sharing Platform

In structural and molecular biology, images from scientific publications appear in print almost daily. Many of these images are derived from software such as UCSF-Chimera, demonstrated in our case studies above. Facebook recently approved Sketchfab interactive 3D embed codes, and it is now possible to replace images with annotated interactive 3D structures.   Click here to view cryo-em (EMD) and xray diffraction (PDB) structures in Facebook

 2015-12-06 06_38_19-Protein Simulation

Case Study No. 3 – Using Facebook as a Data-Sharing Platform

The combined technologies might help scientist, publishers and others share meaningful, timely discoveries in ways not previously possible!

Using Interactive Learning Objects as Figure Legends

In structural biology, images from scientific visualization software such as UCSF-Chimera appear in print almost daily.  As indicated in Case Study No. 1, it may now be possible to explore replacing some of the images with interactive annotated structures, especially if the figure legend text can be made to navigate the structure in Sketchfab.  Though very preliminary, this is possible using API scripts in conjunction with Sketchfab. Click here to view

 2015-12-06 06_02_26-Sketchfab For Science - Publishers & 3D Embed Codes

Using  Interactive Learning Objects as Figure Legends

Given the explosion in online journals and the fact that scientist are now beginning to experiment with Sketchfab, it may be possible to use this technology for their publications in the near future.


The amount of data being generated by the scientist community is enormous.  Efforts are underway to find ways to disperse and validate the data in a timely fashion.  Given the explosion in tools for e-learning, social media and interactive 3D, we hope the examples presented here help to demonstrate how they can be used for scientific and educational purposes.