Business Consulting Sample Post: Hands-on Experience is the Best Form of Training

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As knowledge and technology advance ever faster, it becomes increasingly important to identify the most effective types of training.

Training, whether you’re onboarding new employees or teaching experienced employees new skills, can be costly and time-consuming. While training needs to be customized based on your needs, there’s one category of training that stands apart.

Hands-on learning, which is also called active learning or experiential learning, has proven itself to be the best type of training for just about any purpose. Let’s look at what separates this type of training from other models and look at some of the top hands-on training benefits.



What is Hands-on Training?

The basic concept of hands-on learning or training is simple enough. It’s essentially learning by doing as opposed to, say, reading a textbook, listening to a lecture, or watching a video. Of course, the hands-on approach incorporates reading, listening, and other learning methods. Learners, after all, need guidance before and while they’re practicing a new skill.

Until modern times, just about all learning was hands-on. The ancient model of apprenticeship, for example, had a student learn a craft by working closely with a master. When apprentices were learning to become a blacksmith, artist, or carpenter, they didn’t sit passively while the master lectured. They learned by doing.

The modern education system, however, popularized different learning models, where a single instructor lectured to large classes and textbooks were used to convey complex information. This model was part of industrialization and the formation of a society where many people were being trained to work in factories and perform rote tasks. As we move from the industrial to the digital age, however, businesses need employees who can think for themselves and master new skills quickly. It turns out that the old system of hands-on learning is the perfect way to accomplish this.

Top Benefits of Hands-on Learning

There are several reasons people learn best with hands-on training.

Learners Remember More

One study found students were 1.5 times as likely to fail a course if they didn’t engage in active learning. Performing a task rather than just reading or hearing about it fully engages the mind and body, allowing you to retain more of what you’ve learned. The National Training Laboratory estimates students remember 10% of what they read and 75% of what they practice doing. It’s worth noting they retain even more (90%) by teaching others, another powerful component that can be used along with hands-on training.

Increased Engagement

The more engaged learners are, the more effective training will be. Listening to long lectures or reading difficult material without a break or active engagement can get tedious. If people aren’t engaged, they not only retain less but they feel less connected to the topic. When they actively participate, however, they show more interest. It becomes not only an abstract topic but something with immediate relevance.

Instant Feedback Allows for More Efficient Learning

Not everyone has the same learning style. Some people are visual learners, for example, while others absorb more of what they hear. Learning by doing is sometimes known as kinesthetic learning. However, as studies suggest, almost everyone benefits from the hands-on approach. This style can combine with other learning modalities that suit different learners’ needs. When someone actually performs a task, he or she gets instant feedback as weaknesses and strengths emerge. They can then go back to the drawing board, which might mean consulting a book or video or taking a class to get up to speed in a certain area.

Applications for Hands-on Training

Mentor teaches employees through hands-on training

The hands-on approach is powerful for many types of learning. Some of the use cases for hands-on training methods include:

  • Customer service. The fastest way for customer service reps who talk to customers online or on the phone to learn what does and doesn’t work is to actually talk to people, with instructors or supervisors monitoring to give feedback or, when necessary, to intervene.
  • Learning how to operate software or machinery. There’s no substitute for hands-on learning if someone needs to master a device or application.
  • Simulation. Learning in a simulated environment can keep learners engaged while giving them valuable hands-on experience. Trainees can learn, for example, how to fly a plane, operate on a patient, or design a building by working on a simulated program.
  • Role-play. In some cases, it’s not practical to send trainees into a real-world scenario. In such cases, role-playing can be an effective substitute. Examples include customer service training or sensitivity training, where a trainer can play the role of a customer or co-worker. Role-playing is very useful for training where people need to master soft skills such as communication, persuasion, conflict resolution, and sensitivity.  

These are just a few examples of situations where hands-on or experiential training is extremely effective.

How to Get the Most Out of Experiential/Hands-on Learning in Your Organization

Experiential learning can apply to any situation where students, trainees, or employees need to acquire real-world skills. Here are some guidelines to help you get the maximum benefits out of this approach.

  • Set clear goals for each session or activity so learners aren’t overwhelmed or confused. When people enter a new environment or start learning a new skill, they need to focus on one area at a time.
  • Integrate hands-on learning with other methods. You don’t have to think of experiential learning as a replacement for other modalities such as reading, lectures, audio, and video learning. Rather, it’s a way to complement such methods and reinforce the material.
  • Mentorship and hands-on learning are a powerful combination. While hands-on techniques can work in a group or classroom environment, they’re even more effective in smaller groups or one-on-one. Mentors can work closely with learners as they acquire new skills.
  • Use gamification to make learning more fun. Depending on the topic, this could be a software game or a live game where teams compete to earn points. Many learning management systems now incorporate gamification.

Experiential or hands-on learning is often the fastest and most engaging way to introduce new skills. If you’re currently using methods that are more passive, consider adding hands-on techniques to make the learning process more effective and interesting for everyone.

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