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What Are the Benefits of Hands-on Training?

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There's an old Chinese proverb that says, "Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, but let me do and I will understand." Hands-on training gives the teacher the opportunity to provide direct instruction, so that the learner can build the foundation to master the task.

What Is Hands-On Training?

Hands-on training is used for teaching people how to perform specific tasks. It allows learners to apply their knowledge to real-world situations. Unlike traditional classroom training, in which learners listen to lectures, and where they might view photos, illustrations and videos, hands-on learners are actively involved. For many people, it's a better way to learn because they're more apt to remember something they've done, as opposed to something they've heard or have read.

The apprentice model has been around for centuries, because it works. Learning by doing provides the learner with reinforcement and feedback. Hands-on learning allows students to make the transition from the "why" behind a task to the "how." Studies have shown that the brain responds differently to learning experiences when they are hands on. When learners are physically engaged, they are better able to understand difficult concepts and they have better retention of what they've learned.

Teaching Strategies for Hands-on Learning in the Classroom

Numerous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of experiential learning for all age groups. Whether you're teaching preschoolers to put together a puzzle or instructing employees in the completion of a new task, there are common strategies to maximize the effectiveness of hands-on learning:

  • Recognize that different individuals may have different learning styles. Some people may need a demonstration before trying a task on their own. Others can listen to teacher and perform each step of the task as instructed. 
  • Allow students to learn at their own pace. Be patient with those who need more time or further explanation.
  • Provide opportunities for repeated practice. Even the most talented student or employee is unlikely to perform a task perfectly after the first attempt.
  • Expect students to make mistakes. In fact, mistakes are more conducive to learning than perfect execution of a task. Making mistakes builds problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Mistakes encourage learners to take risks and understand the consequences of their actions.
  • Appreciate the team-building that takes place when employees or students learn a new task together.

Student Strategies for Hands-on Learning

This may surprise you, but failure is an option. When you're just given the correct answer, you're likely to remember only for a short time. When you make a mistake and have to figure it out for yourself, you're much more likely to retain the information. With hands-on learning, you're involving the mind as well as the body.

Making mistakes and discovering the right solutions gives you permission to take risks, and even to fail. You'll build self-confidence every time you encounter an obstacle and figure out a way to overcome it. Hands-on learning can boost your capacity to learn in the classroom, on the job and in life.

Like Riding a Bike

Did you learn to ride a bike by reading a book about it? By looking at a picture of a bicycle, or by watching someone else pedal down the street? Did someone explain to you, step-by-step, what you were supposed to do? Of course not. You learned by getting on the bike and wobbling this way and that, while you found your balance. You got into a rhythm with the pedals under your feet. Undoubtedly, you may have fallen a few times. It may have been frustrating, and at one time or another, you may have thought you'd never be successful. Eventually, though, your experiences helped you and you could ride a bike without thinking. It's the same with learning new software or learning how to operate a new piece of equipment. Hands-on training gives learners the opportunity to try, to fail, and ultimately, to succeed.


Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.

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