Unit 1: What is hands-on learning and what are the benefits of this type of instruction?

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What is Hands-On Learning?

Before we can learn about virtual science labs, we must first understand what it means to utilize a hands-on-approach to learning. According to Cecilia O. Ekwueme, Ester E. Ekon, and Dorothy C. Ezenwa-Nebife (2015), "Hands-on-approach is a method of instruction where students are guided to gain knowledge by experience. This means giving the students the opportunity to manipulate the objects they are studying...".

Think back to your experience as a student in a science classroom. All of those labs, experiments, and projects were examples of hands-on learning. Hands-on learning goes by a variety of names such as experimental learning, project-based learning, and learning-by-doing but they all mean the same thing. Students learn through experience and observation to utilize problem solving and critical thinking skills to complete a task.

Please watch the video below that explains hands-on learning in the classroom:

Next, please read through this website to brainstorm some hands-on STEM activities that can be done in the classroom.

10 Hands-On Science and Math Activities

What are the Benefits of this Type of Instruction?

The question of "what makes this type of instruction so great?" comes up while comparing hands-on learning to traditional teaching practices. In the article titled Hands-On Approaches to Science Teaching: Questions and Answers from the Field and Research, by David L. Haury and Peter Rillero (1992), they explain the main benefit of hands on learning as follows:

"Students in a hands-on science program will remember the material better, feel a sense of accomplishment when the task is completed, and be able to transfer that experience easier to other learning situations. When more than one method of learning is accessed as in hands- on learning, the information has a better chance of being stored in the memory for useful retrieval. Students who have difficulty in the learning arena for reasons of ESL barriers, auditory deficiencies, or behavioral interference can be found to be on task more often because they are PART OF the learning process and not just spectators" (Haury & Rillero, 1992, p. 5).

Observe the pyramid image below. The percentages on the pyramid represent the retention rates among students that complete this type of instruction.


After observing you should notice that the "practice by doing" section (otherwise known as hands-on learning) has a 75% retention rate by students compared to the typical lecture type of instruction having a low retention rate of only 5%. When students can use their hands and experience first hand what they are learning, they open up so many more opportunities for long term retention and memory.

Next, please explore this website Benefits of Hands-On Teaching and Learning. On this site you will first read through a list of some benefits of hands-on learning and then choose 2 of the links at the bottom of the page to explore further (videos, articles, theories, or websites).

Unit 1 Assignment

Attached is a Google Form for you to fill out to reflect back on what you remember as either a student or an educator. Please reflect on the following questions on the form:

-What do you remember from learning-by-doing practices in school?

-How did these activities help you as a student?

-Have you ever used hands-on learning in your classroom?

-How has this approach increased your students' overall retention and success with the topic?

Google Form link


Ekwueme, C.O., Ekon, E.E., & Ezenwa-Nebife, D.C. (2015). The impact of hands-on-approach on student academic performance in basic science and mathematics. Higher Education Studies 5(6). doi: 10.5539/hes.v5n6p47

Dickerson, P. (2015). How NGSS transforms science class with hands-on learning [Photograph]. eSchool News https://www.eschoolnews.com/2015/10/29/ngss-science-classroom-320/

hands2mind (2012). Hands-on learning for a bright future - ETA hands2mind[Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaVsdUJrdWo

Hands On - As We Grow. (2020, August 7). 10 Hands-On Science & Math Activities to Plan Your Week. https://handsonaswegrow.com/10-hands-on-science-math-activities/

Haury, D.L. & Rillero, P. (1992). Hands-on approaches to science teaching: Questions and answers from the field and research. ERIC Clearinghouse for Science, Mathematics and Environmental Education. Retrieved from: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED349185

Kelly, J. (2012). The learning pyramid [Image]. The Park Performance Center. https://thepeakperformancecenter.com/educational-learning/learning/principles-of-learning/learning-pyramid/

Supreme Incursions. (n.d.). Benefits of hands-on teaching and learning. http://www.supremeincursions.com.au/hands-on-learning

Course Map

Unit 1: What is hands-on learning and what are the benefits of this type of instruction?

Next Unit: Unit 2: How can hands-on learning be done virtually?

Unit 3: Connecting virtual labs and resources to my curriculum

Unit 4: Design and implement a lesson containing virtual hands-on learning

Return to: ETAP 623 Fall 2020 (Zhang) | Sarah Sweazy |Hands on Learning Benefits Through Virtual Science Labs