Hands-on learning, just as the name suggests, is that manual interaction with knowledge. You execute what you are learning and learn from the outcomes of your experiments. Whether it’s envisioning the laws of physics, a chemical reaction, or the Pythagorean theorem, you practically perform your lessons rather than just listening and following.
A productive methodology like this deserves greater recognition. Today we are going to assimilate this wonderful learning technique and all the associated terms through this article. You can speed up your reading by directly clicking on the relevant section from the table of contents.
Hands-on learners are called tactile learners as well. This is because they use their tactile sense-the perception of surroundings through skin sensations- as their learning medium. Hands-on learners prefer watching any event realistically happen through experiments instead of just believing what they read. They think, and they question. Hands-on learning is befitting for the kinesthetic learning style, as both require practical application and demonstration. Not limited to tactile learners only, hands-on learning methods have been proven to be beneficial to all students regardless of their learning style.
Let us now move on to explore more about this wonderful education technique.
What is Hands-On Learning?
There is a good deal of hands-on learning or hands-on experience synonyms. One of them is experiential learning. This synonym is derived from the fact that in hands-on learning, we learn what we experience. Having first-hand experience with the lessons helps the students learn and remember them better.
Hands-on Learning definition describes the process as ‘learning through the practical utilization of knowledge.’ Students approach the lesson by doing what the theory says. For instance, while learning about the birth and growth of trees, students should be allotted their own seeds to plant. This way, they can practically watch the seed sprout and the plant growth, which will make them remember the event much better. Hands-on learning can be best understood through Kolb’s four-stage Experiential Learning Model.
Kolb’s Four-Stage Experiential Learning Model
Kolb was a psychology teacher and education theorist who came up with a model in 1984.
It has the following elements:
- Concrete Experience (CE)
- Reflective Observation (RO)
- Abstract Conceptualization (AC)
- Active Experimentation (AE).
Let us now elaborate on these stages:
- Concrete Experience (CE): The first stage is a concrete experience where you collect information about any subject. In this stage, your experiences of the world are taken into account. Your knowledge can come from any real event in life.
- Reflective Observation (RO): Secondly, reflective observation means processing the information, understanding what the information is trying to convey, and how to design an experiment to comprehend it practically. In this stage, the learner also takes experiences into account to learn from them.
- Abstract Conceptualization (AC): Third is the abstract conceptualization stage in which you ponder and have insights about the information and also exchange ideas. In this stage, you take the outcome of your experiments and use it to create the theoretical concepts.
- Active Experimentation (AE): At last, in the Active Experimentation stage, you put your knowledge and understanding to use. And watch things unravel and envision the knowledge.
A student goes through these steps in the form of a cycle. Kolb described learning as “habitual ways of responding to a learning environment.” How a student handles and performs in each stage helps identify their learning style. The Kolb model of Experiential Learning aids in discovering your natural preference of how you indulge in the learning process.
Who is a Hands-on Learner?
Students who are keen to experiment can be hands-on learners. They like to find the answers to their curiosity through realistic situations. Hands-on learners find it difficult to just memorize whatever is dictated to them. They show their true potential when they can build, move or touch things to learn about them.
To know more about hands-on learners, we need to look at Pfeiffer and Jones’s five-stage Experiential Learning Cycle.
Pfeiffer and Jones’s Five-Stage Experiential Learning Cycle
Kolb’s model was the basis of many other studies in the years to come. One such study was Pfeiffer and Jones’s five-stage Experiential Learning Cycle. The model was adapted from Kolb’s model and published a year later, in 1985.
In this, the four stages of Kolb’s model were upgraded into five questions. Them being:
- Did you notice?
- Why did that happen?
- Does that happen in life?
- Why does that happen?
- How can you use that?
The basic theory is to do, reflect and apply. Let us now define and elaborate on these questions:
The first step is “did you notice?” This means exploring the data that has been presented to us. It is accompanied by exploring and experimenting without any supervision to have an independent vision of the happenings and mistakes. This way, the student indulges in an unfamiliar environment. The stage might be a little uncomfortable for some. But this offers an immense opportunity for learning, and the challenges faced help us in life and make us confident.
The next step is questioning the happenings of the experiments. What happens when performing a certain course of action? Why did it happen? What was the most difficult part of the experiment, and which was the easiest task? What baffled you the most, and what was the most important lesson learned? How can the lessons from this experiment be utilized later in life? How will you demonstrate the lesson to someone else, and what are the things you would warn them about? Discussion and learning from shared experiences are the essence of this stage.
In the third question, you relate the results in context with life experiences. Can the same result be achieved naturally? Where does a particular phenomenon happen in real life? Are there any real-life incidents similar to the ones that happened? Also, in this stage, the students share their thoughts and challenges.
Next, you would like to know why such things happen. The scientific evidence behind any occurrence helps you remember and also apply the same theories in the future. This also upgrades your mental database, and you are prepared not to repeat the same mistakes next time.
Lastly, your focus is on using what you have learned. All the lessons learned, along with the mistakes made, are part of the learning process. The students not only learn academically, but they also get to know themselves. The whole process teaches them skills that can be used in real life. Experiential learning upgrades common sense along with academic aptitude.
How Does Hands-on Learning Help Students?
The ideal learning should be where you can put your knowledge directly to work. Hands-on learning is a way of applying knowledge in real life. When a student learns through the hands-on learning process, they are more prepared for their future. Students, who work and interact with tools and instruments from a young age, learn their practical applications. They make mistakes and learn from them.
This helps them later in life as they don’t need extensive on-the-job training and also become more confident. Also, when the students perform what they are learning, it shows them, as well as the teachers, whether they understood the topic correctly or not.
Benefits of Hands-On Learning
There are several reasons why hands-on learning is superior to traditional rote learning, where memorization through repetition is the key.
Have a look at the merits of hands-on learning through the following points:
- Education that can be enjoyed: It is easier to learn and retain lessons when we are having fun while learning them. Practicing what we are learning gets more of our attention, resulting in a boost in engagement and interest. This way, the lessons will be a part of our memory for a longer period.
- Learning by doing: Not only teachers but even parents and guardians play a huge role in the hands-on learning process of a child. We all know children imitate adults. So engaging your kids in activities or any type of household chores will encourage them to choose demonstration over memorization. Also, asking for and valuing their ideas and opinions will make them more confident about their abilities.
- Learning through outdoor activities: Being outside, in nature, helps us learn about our environment way better. This skill is essential for life experiences as well. Hands-on learning involves nature and natural scenarios to teach. For instance, when teaching about windmills, it is a better option to practically show the students how a windmill works.
- All five senses get involved: When you do and work with your hands and touch things to learn about them, you are engaging all of your sensory organs. You see, you feel, you touch, you hear, and, in some experiments, your sense of taste is utilized too. This multisensory experience gets embedded in our memory quickly and easily.
- Makes students creative: When you’re allowed to design and carry out experiments, your creativity increases. This opens new horizons of the mind as you have to think more. You get an all-round view of the situation. You face challenges and overcome them on your own. This makes you confident and gives birth to new ideas.
- Makes students responsible: Hands-on learning is all about responsibility. The learning process completely depends on the student, as It’s the student’s job to take the initiative. You can be pushed to design an apparatus for the experiment, but you cannot be pushed to perform it and learn from it.
- Trains you for the job: Hands-on learning can be considered a form of on-the-job training. You perform the same tasks from the real world, only in a simulated environment. This gives you an insight into the actual work you have to do and, thus, prepares you well in advance. Additionally, your rational skills develop, making you more critically smart.
Even though this method seems like a smart choice, it still has certain shortcomings related to it. Let us look into that next.
Imperfections in the Hands-on Learning Method
Hands-on learning ensures that students learn through experimentation and not just memorization. However, there’s still a long road ahead for hands-on learning. There are certain setbacks because of which this technique has yet to reach its befitting fame.
- Time-consuming setup: Testing theories using experimentation is very time taking because setting up the apparatus is a long-drawn-out process. Also, if the apparatus is complicated, its arrangement and subsequent usage become tricky. In many cases, the added costs might go over the budget.
- Not easy to accept: Although hands-on learning is preferred by some teachers and students, it is not pro-choice by the majority. Even after knowing the benefits of the learning style, people are still not very enthusiastic about it as the traditional classroom setting is more familiar to them.
Teaching Strategies for Hands-on Learning
- Discussion and debate: At the end of the day, it is the educator’s responsibility to encourage a healthy exchange of ideas among the students. This way, students get to explore a variety of viewpoints and thus have an all-inclusive study of the lessons.
- Co-operation amongst teachers: Collaboration amongst teachers means that the educators, apart from the one who taught the lesson, should join the team to ask questions to the students. This way, students get practical experience of how to answer questions in an unfamiliar situation. Also, teachers should have successfully used the hands-on learning strategy and can share their experiences, challenges, and actions.
- Retracing what is learned: The most important aspect of hands-on learning is to go through what is learned. This is a revision of the outcomes so that the students don’t forget their lessons.
- Involve Props: Teachers can use many kinds of props. For example, a skeleton can be used while teaching about the bone structure of the human body; a kaleidoscope can be used to demonstrate the reflection, etc. There can be other props, like slime, sand clay, etc., that can be used for fun activities while teaching.
Resources for Hands-on Learning
Educators need to be fully aware before incorporating anything into the curricula. Following are certain resources that help the teachers understand the hands-on learning strategy first:
- Books, tutorials, and journals.
- Internships and conferences.
- Engagement in research activities.
- Learning from educators who have experience in the field.
- Psychologist podcasts or lectures.
- Social events.
It is a proven fact that no individual has just one learning style. Everyone’s learning style is a mixture of various types of learning styles. Hence, every individual should understand their learning style to determine the patterns and methodologies that will help them grasp concepts better. This is the surefire way of succeeding in life.
Understanding learning styles becomes a necessity not just to understand your students; it also plays a huge role in knowing yourself. When you are aware of your preferred learning styles, you know how to interact with information. Thus making it easier and faster to learn things with lesser effort.