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Hands-on learning is an educational method that directly involves the learner, by actively encouraging them to do something in order to learn about it. In short, it is 'learning by doing'. But is it an effective way to learn, or simply a fad? This article outlines some of the main advantages and disadvantages of hands-on learning.
First and foremost, it is clear that there are certain situations in which hands-on learning is the only way to teach something. For example, there is no use trying to teach a child to ride a bicycle in a traditional classroom - they need to get outside to try out a bike. Many people argue that doing something is the best way to learn about it, rather than attempting to learn about it from a book. No matter how many books you read about cycling, you are still sure to fall off the first time you try!
Furthermore, hands-on learning allows students to directly observe and understand what is happening. This is a particularly successful way to teach kinesthetic learners, who learn best by example. It is often hard to properly understand something you have never directly seen or experienced. This is why lately hands-on learning has become more popular in education - there are more vocational courses that provide work experience than ever before. This is a perfect example on hands-on learning in practice.
It also encourages young pupils to do things for themselves, which will help them with learning independently later on in life. Important life skills such as these are often neglected in a situation where students are simply told facts and made to learn them by heart.
However, there are downsides to the technique. Often demonstrations will give students the main idea of how something works, but place less emphasis on detail. For students hoping to attain the highest grades, they may need to read up on their subject to develop a deeper understanding of it. Students may feel after learning the basics they don't need to do any more study, which could impact negatively on their grades.
Some things simply can't be taught using hands-on learning. For example, complex algebra - the best way to teach this is in lecture based classes, as there are few practical demonstrations that can be done to help students understand it. Other topics may be hard to cover because of high costs - like space rockets; very few schools are able to go and visit a space centre. This could increase the apartheid between state and private schools, as private schools are more likely to be able to afford expensive visits and equipment, which disadvantages students who are less well off.
There is no doubt that actively involving students will enhance their education. However, hands-on learning would be more effective if it was combined with traditional learning from books. Although it is very good at providing a foundation for knowledge and understanding, in some cases it fails to develop ideas to a higher level.