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3 Ways Students Benefit From Hands-On Learning

Hands-on learning, also known as kinesthetic learning, continues to gain popularity among all grade levels thanks to its ability to both engage students and help make their learning visible.

The origins of this learning style date back to the teachings of great educators and thinkers including Maria Montessori, William James and Wilhelm Wundt. However, it was the development of the VAK (visual, auditory, kinesthetic) learning model, designed by Walter Burke Barbe and further developed by Neil Fleming, that helped expand its application beyond remedial purposes.

As you consider ways to integrate more hands-on learning in your classroom, learn three ways this approach can benefit your students today.


Improved Memory Retention

The Roman Emperor Julius Caesar was on to something when in 52 B.C., he wrote, “Experience is the teacher of all things.” In the thousands of years since Caesar’s remarks, many studies have shown that the more data we’re able to receive through our senses, the more connections our brain is able to make – helping us to better build and retain an understanding of new ideas. For mathematics and science subjects in particular, research published by the University of Chicago suggests that hands-on learning could be especially effective in helping students understand and apply the concepts.

“In many situations, when we allow our bodies to become part of the learning process, we understand better,” Sian Beilock, the study’s lead researcher and current president of Dartmouth College said in an article published by the University of Chicago. “Reading about a concept in a textbook or even seeing a demonstration in class is not the same as physically experiencing what you are learning about. We need to rethink how we are teaching math and science because our actions matter for how and what we learn.”


Enhanced Problem-Solving Skills

Hands-on learning, with its emphasis on experiential engagement, provides students with opportunities to directly interact with materials, tools and real-world situations. This active approach to problem solving can help students recognize the relevance of what they’re learning and become more invested in the lesson at hand.

A research review published in Frontiers in Psychology supports this and partially attributes students’ buy-in in hands-on learning opportunities to their responsibility over the success of their projects and their direct involvement in the final results or outcomes.


Deeper Learning Through Collaboration

As the world becomes increasingly complex, students entering the workforce will be expected to collaborate with others who might have different backgrounds and skill sets. Through hands-on group work, students can learn and discover solutions together, gaining valuable collaboration experience from a young age.

Additionally, according to an article published by the Center for Teaching Innovation at Cornell University, research has shown that collaborative learning supports:

  • Development of higher-level thinking, oral communication, self-management and leadership skills 
  • Exposure to and an increase in understanding of diverse perspectives 
  • Preparation for real-life social and employment situations 
  • Greater student retention, self-esteem and responsibility


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