Learning styles: Hands-on Learning

I have been writing about learning styles for the past couple of weeks and mainly been blabbing on about how important I think it is to get students engaged and actively involved with their learning. So it made sense to me to now move onto talking about an active approach to learning in general!

Hands-on learning is a learning style which requires the student to carry out a physical activity and try and get learning by themselves. Rather than just sitting in a hall listening to a lecturer or watching a demonstration, hands-on learning gets the students up and physically involved.

Researchers have found that introducing hands-on techniques into the classroom is good for students (Sivan et al., 2000). Manuel (2002) found that students who had a preference for a kinesthetic learning style (a type of Hands-on method) would show signs of improved academic performances when they were taught in this way. Manuel believes that students performed well because of the positive attitude towards the kinesthetic learning style. Poudel et al., (2005) suggests that students will perform well when involved in hands-on activities because this approach is more interesting than a teacher lecturing them. Due to this enhanced interest, they believe that students will be more motivated to learn and to think in a more critical way.

Some hands-on methods that education practices have introduced are Group projects, working in a group means students have to be active in terms of sharing their ideas, learning from others, enhancing their argumentative skills etc., Springer, Stanna and Donovan (1998) suggest that group projects are particularly effective if working in pairs. They suggest that working in pairs promotes greater student achievement, increases retention in courses, and promotes favourable attitudes toward the course material. Also, Shakarian (1995) suggest that working in pairs is better than big groups because it makes it pretty much impossible for students to avoid participating (check out more I’ve written about social loafing). Jigsaw Group Projects have also been described as an effective active-learning technique (Clarke, 1994), this is where students are bunged into a group and have to explore a particular topic, each member has their own sub-topic which they research, then once they have all worked on their sub-topic they “fix” it all together and discuss. This works well because all the students have to research their own area and then deliver the information to other members, research shows that by explaining information to others will increase one’s own understanding (Peterson & Janicki, 1979).Online journals can be used for an active style of learning, this is an effective tool for motivating students to apply course concepts to their own life experiences and to explore course content in more depth, also by uploading journals online encourages public debate where others can discuss with them (Glogoff, 2005). Faust and Paulson (1998) suggest that role playing also works well for students because this active technique allows them to gain a better understanding of the theories and concepts that are being taught in class. Playing Games is another one (for adults too – not just kids lol) Groves, Warren and Witscher (1996) suggest that playing games can dramatize aspects of reality and information that can’t be transmitted by ordinary methods of delivering knowledge (lectures)! Faust and Paulson (1998) suggests that games such as puzzles are a highly effective way to review material before moving onto the next stage of the assignment.

However, people may criticize some of these techniques!! Faculties argue that these hands-on methods do not cover enough information, but Faust and Paulson (1998) controversially say that students are still learning just as much this way, basically they say that a boring approach may cover more material, but that doesn’t mean students will retain it all! Because students are less likely to retain all the information if they are bored! Also, some may say that not all students want to get actively involved and may have another learning style preference, due to this Felder (1993) suggests that it is probably best to use these hands-on techniques as an additional tool of learning; so using these techniques along with the standard lecture should be an effective method for all students in the class. Another thing Felder mentions is that by combining these methods, that it should hopefully prepare students for the workplace!

To conclude, its considered that many students have a preference towards hands-on learning activities, and it is suggested that this is because it is an interesting learning style! There are many ways to introduce hands-on activities into the classroom, which have been found successful for both children and adults in education. Some of these include; group work, journals, games and role playing – and that’s just to name a few, there are many many many ways to involve hands-on learning into education, but these are some of the ones that stood out to me!! Despite there being some negative issues surrounding this learning style; research shows that there are solutions and also that hands-on activites may be best to be used as an additional tool of learning.




Clarke, J. (1994). Pieces of the puzzle: The jigsaw method. In S. Sharan (Ed.), Handbook of cooperative learning methods (pp. 34-50). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Faust, J. L., & Paulson, D. R. (1998). Active learning in the college classroom.Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 9(2), 3-24.

Glogoff, S. (2005). Instructional blogging: Promoting interactivity, student-centered learning, and peer input. Innovate. Journal of Online Education, 1(5).

Groves, J. M., Warren, C., & Witscher, J. (1996). Reversal of fortune: A simulation game for teaching inequality in the classroom. Teaching Sociology, 24, 364-371.

Manuel, K. (2002), Teaching Information Literacy to Generation Y, Hawthorn Press, New York, NY, .

Paulson, D. R. (1999). Active learning and cooperative learning in the organic chemistry lecture class. The Journal of Chemical Education, 76, 1136-1140.

Poudel, D. D., Vincent, L. M., Anzalone, C., Huner, J., Wollard, D., Clement, T., … & Blakewood, G. (2005). Hands-on activities and challenge tests in agricultural and environmental education. The Journal of Environmental Education, 36(4), 10-22.

Shakarian, D. C. (1995). Beyond lecture: Active-learning strategies that
work. The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 66, 21-24.

Sivan, A., Leung, R. W., Woon, C. C., & Kember, D. (2000). An implementation of active learning and its effect on the quality of student learning. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 37(4), 381-389.

Springer, L., Stanne, M. E., &. Donovan, S. S. (1998). Effects of small-group learning on undergraduates in science, mathematics, engineering and technology. Madison, WI: National Institute for Science Education.


7 thoughts on “Learning styles: Hands-on Learning

  1. francesdevine says:

    Hi Sinae,

    Truthfully I don’t know an awful lot about learning styles (apart from what I have read on people’s blogs over the last few weeks) but I have always found that I work better when it is more hands-on, like you said I think it is more intrinsically-interesting,which research has found increases intrinsic motivation: individuals who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to engage in tasks willingly to improve their skills, which will in turn increase their capabilities (Wigfield, Guthrie, Tonks, & Perencevich, 2004). It is generally theorised that the more intrinsically motivated an individual is the more engaged they are in the task at hand.

    From what I have understood most of these hands-on methods involve group work, which subsequently involves the need to cooperate. Slavin (1988) states that there are two essential conditions if the achievement effects of cooperative learning are to be realised: first there must be a group goal that is important to them, e.g., they receive a certificate, second the success of the group must depend on the individual learning of all individuals (accountability). To me this second point seems like it can be applied to the jigsaw group projects — everyone has a role within the project, so everyone is accountable.

    Slavin (1988). Cooperative learning and student achievement. Educational Leadership, 46(2), pp. 31-33

    Wigfield, Guthrie, Tonks, & Perencevich (2004) Children’s motivation for reading: Domain specification and instructional influences. Journal of Educational Research, 97, pp. 299-309

  2. rowlatt says:

    A similar method of hands on learning is discovery or adventure learning, both teaching methods can use hands on approaches e.g. field trips, learning adventure holidays or even in class activities. Problem based learning is basically a small group of students being given a task, they then do individual work to understand the problem that was given. They eventually meet up as a group for everyone to voice their knowledge and create a complex solution to a problem. Mennin states that problem based learning makes students learn more because they study more when compared to other learning styles (Mennin et al., 2003). Females in problem based learning tend to have an advantage and outperform males, due to a higher standard of communication (McParland, Noble & Livingston, 2004).

    Important things that we would need right now in our dissertation are also improved like the ability to conduct scientific research or write a research report and efficiency skills such as the ability to function with deadlines or to work under pressure are seen to be significantly higher under problem based learning conditions (Schmidt, 1993).

    Adventure learning is a pretty good hands on method but I believe the problem based learning is superior. Adventure learning is basically field trips, fun exercises have been looked into and it has been found that fun exercises can aid learning, this was proved when giving children tests before and after fun experiences and compared to traditional learning, fun experiences was significantly better fir retention (Luckner, Nadler, 1997).

    Luckner, J., Nadler, S. (1997). Processing the Experience: Strategies To Enhance and Generalize Learning

    McParland., Noble., Livingston. (2004) The effectiveness of problem-based learning compared to traditional teaching in undergraduate psychiatry. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences (8) 859-67

    Mennin, S.P., et al. (2003). Position Paper: Problem‐Based Learning. Education for Health, 16(1):98‐113

    Schmidt, (1993). Foundations of Problem based learning: some explanatory notes, Department of Educational Development and Research. (27) 422-432

  3. Ben says:

    Hey 🙂 Another great blog Sinae! There’s a lot to be said for the benefits of hands on learning, particularly in younger children. In primary schools at the moment, the Foundation Phase is a much more ‘hands on’ take on the curriculum, with a large emphasis on learning by doing.

    This is beneficial to students and seems to encourage engagement, and this is support by studies such as Paris, Yambor and Wai-Ling Packard (1998) where a school-university tie in allowed students to get ‘hands on’ with biology. This study showed that there was a marked improvement on students interest in the topic. In addition to this, there was a improvement in grades and problem solving skills at all levels (this scheme was open to 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students).

    This more engaging, interesting learning style is more engaging for children, and certainly seems to help them develop.

    Paris, S. G., Yambor, K. M., & Packard, B. W. L. (1998). Hands-on biology: A museum-school-university partnership for enhancing students’ interest and learning in science. The Elementary School Journal, 267-288.

    Foundation Phase Framework ‘Children learn through first-hand experiential activities with the serious business of ‘play’ providing the vehicle’ – http://wales.gov.uk/dcells/publications/policy_strategy_and_planning/early-wales/whatisfoundation/foundationphase/2274085/frameworkforchildrene.pdf;jsessionid=6C9C08151AD2FEE6F6539CC696958FE7?lang=en

  4. Steph says:

    The hands on approach to learning does have a lot of benefits such as better retention and more critical thinking (http://news.everest.edu/post/2010/01/top-5-benefits-of-a-hands-on-learning-environment) but there could also be room of some lecture style learning too. I found a couple of different online articles that explained how students switch off after 15mins when being taught in the traditional lecture. Some teachers have started changing the class activity every 15minutes to keep students engaged, for example; in the first 15minutes they may teach children by standing at the front and talking but after 15mins get children into practical experiments for another 15mins then change again after 15mins and have a group discussion about the practical experiments. This allows students to get the benefits of different learning styles and it keep them engaged and retaining information.


  5. tristanfialko says:

    Gardener (1989), in his theory of multiple intelligences mentions body kinesthetic as being a seperate intelligence, he applies this intelligence in education, he thinks it has been ignored.
    Different learning styles manifest separately in different individuals. The hands on approach as you mentioned has been proven to be a successful method of teaching and would be a good solution to those who score highly in body kinesthetic intelligence. However, as I have just mentioned on another blog, using one style of teaching is not recommended, incorporating this technique into regular classes is! I do agree that the majority find the hands on approach most engaging. Thinking back to classes at school, subjects like DT and Chemistry, which, regularly made use of this approach always had the attention of the class even if they were not inclined towards that specific subject.

  6. Catherine says:

    Great blog again! We seem to have the same views about the hands-on approach of learning. I believe it encourages the student to concentrate and learn more than the standard lectures in massive halls! It encourages interaction between students, along with the teacher/ lecturer. With the different learning groups you mentioned, they all seem to be effective within education. Gokhale (1995) emphasised the importance of collaborative learning within education because it involves and hopefully enhances critical thinking of students which is what we need to develop! However, over the last few weeks I have been discussing anxiety within education. While reading your blog it made me think about social anxiety. This is when a person feels extremely uncomfortable and high levels of fear take over when an individual is in the presence of others. This can vary from a casual group environment to a more intense environment where public speaking is involved. Some individuals would suffer from social anxiety so much that it would result in a failure to participate (Bernstein et al. 2007). Due to this, students will not want to attend this type of learning environment.

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