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Why Hands-On Learning Experiences Matter

Ask many adults what class they loved in elementary school, and a fair few will highlight those that involved scissors, glue, and glitter. But the reason for fond memories over arts and crafts classes go beyond the sparkles and toward a method of learning that sticks. It’s known as the hands-on approach.

The opportunity to apply skills directly from theory to form engages both the hands and brains. Today, savvy educators organize workshops for grownups that provide these immersive experiences.

For example, there in the lecture circuit, there has been a rise in providing both talks as well as demonstrations of technique. Seen here on this CRT meeting website, they state, "Our interventional cardiology conference features focused educational and training sessions that discuss new trial data, explore evidence-based research, and demonstrate the most up-to-date techniques that can be directly applied to clinical and academic practices."

The hand-brain connection

Ben Mardell, a researcher at Harvard University, notes that kids learn through touch and manipulation of objects. Other educators agree. Judy Dodge, author of a Scholastic book on classroom teaching techniques shares what she has found on the topic. Namely, the more parts of the brain that teachers can get kids to use, the more the children will be able to retain the relayed information.

For example, by listening, drawing, and explaining a concept, a child is making connections in the brain that leads to a solid grasp of the subject. This applies not only to child-aged students but for any person, no matter the age.

A report published in Applied Cognitive Psychology brings new light to the hands-on approach.

Forty participants in the study were given a dull recording to listen to. Half the participants were given pen and paper on which to doodle. At the end of the recording, those in the study were asked to recall some abstract piece of information. Those who doodled were able to recall 29 percent more information than the control group at 5.8 percent.

Experts suggest that engaging in work that keeps the hands busy prevents the mind from wandering away from a learning objective.

A stimulating learning environment key for retention

Children have many different learning styles. Child psychologists point to auditory, tactile, kinesthetic, visual, and social as being among the main ways kids learn. Over time, and through experiences, children learn how to process information, even from a learning style that may not be preferred. But in the lower grades, this ability to absorb concepts presented in a rigid way could hamper mastery.

But appealing to the many learning styles of the students can be a challenging task for teachers.

The solution a number of teachers are turning to is a return to hands-on activities for an interactive classroom experience. For example, activity worksheets provide an engaging learning experience for tactile learners. Teachers then ask auditory learners to relate (speak) what they are doing, thus engaging those who learn best through audio aids. Visual learners see what other students are doing and learn trough watching. In this way, hands-on activities can meet the needs of many students' learning styles.

One tip from a veteran teacher included asking students to explain the purpose of the activity and why they are engaging in it. Along with what they feel they are learning through it.

Other tips for providing hands-on learning experiences in the classroom include the following:

-    Have materials that allow children to check their own work. For example, charts and lists.
-    Allow for assessment time. Have children discuss their finished work and talk about their experiences and what they learned.
-    Put birds of a feather together. If there are multiple activities going on at the same time, consider grouping children by interest and activity type. This will prevent a less interested child from causing the other students in the group to lose interest.

Benefits of the hands-on learning approach

Critical thinking skills are called on when engaging in hands-on activities. Students must rely on more than just memory recall to complete a task. They must learn how to implement information and put it to real-world use. This has implications that go beyond the lower grades of elementary school. And is the reason that vocational colleges and internships are so vital to students before they enter the workforce.

On a job site, students receive mentorship from an instructor. The instructor provides practical advice on how to perform a task correctly. This goes a long way to helping students master the skills needed for the career or the job opportunity they are hoping to fill.