Hands-on learning - Improve Classroom Engagement & Outcomes

Albert Einstein, one of the world’s most brilliant minds, was thought to be a poor student by his teachers. He struggled with traditional learning and felt restricted by the one-size-fits-all approach to his education. It was only when he broke free from these constraints that he went on to change the world. It’s a reminder that even geniuses need a hall pass from convention to shine their brightest.

Although not every classroom is full of mini-Einsteins, an undifferentiated approach to education is still one of the biggest challenges to unlocking student potential. With 76% of teachers recognizing that anxiety and lack of confidence can impede learning(1), it’s clear that when student needs aren’t met they can’t fully access their own individual brilliance. So, how do we kindle a burning curiosity in every student from the moment they enter the classroom?

In this blog, we'll explore the concept of hands-on learning and see how it can be transformative for all types of learners. Let’s get started!

1: LEGO® Education and Harris Insights & Analytics, A Stagwell LLC Company © (2019). Confidence in Learning Poll. [online] LEGO® Education. Available at: https://www.electricbricks.com/images/lego_education_site_bootstrap/WE-Lego-Exec-Summary-4.1.19-1.pdf [Accessed 16 Feb. 2024].

What is hands-on learning?

Hands-on learning is an educational approach that emphasizes active engagement and direct experience with the subject matter. Hands on lessons often include activities where students manipulate objects, perform experiments, or engage in real-world tasks to gain a deeper understanding of concepts.

Hands-on learning theory suggests that when students interact with learning material, they develop a better understanding and retention of subjects. It's based on the concept of embodied cognition, which argues that cognitive processes are linked to physical interactions. When students manipulate objects or move in ways related to the material they're studying, they're more likely to appreciate and remember what they're learning. How cool is that?

But hands-on learning isn't just about physical activity. It's about a multi-tiered approach: cognitive, emotional, and sensory. Whether it’s the simple click of LEGO® bricks or a shout of “eureka” during an experiment, hands-on learners should be in the driver’s seat — making decisions, hypothesizing, and experimenting.

Benefits of hands-on learning – why it’s important to understand & encourage

Hands-on learning has a profound impact on learning outcomes in schools, as well as preparing students for life beyond the classroom.

Hands-on learning directly influences learning outcomes by bridging the gap between theoretical understanding and practical application. When students roll up their sleeves and dive into hands-on learning, they're more likely to be inspired by the hidden worlds beneath the bare facts. Each lesson becomes a journey that leads students from 'what’s this?' to 'aha, that's how it works!'

In the world of work, employers value problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity. By engaging in hands-on experiences, students develop these skills, as well as a lifelong love for learning, which makes them more likely to approach new challenges with confidence and be better prepared for their future careers.

Now let’s explore the tangible benefits that make hands-on learning so beneficial in the classroom.

  • Active engagement

    • Tactile learning strategies transform students from passive to active participants. When they’re physically engaged, their attention and focus become supercharged!
  • Engages multiple senses

    • By engaging in tactile learning, students get a multi-sensory experience and create more neural connections in their brain, which aids memory and understanding.
  • Encourages experimentation

    • Hands-on learning allows students to try out different methods and learn from their mistakes, which is essential for deep learning.
  • Develops problem-solving skills

    • Tactile learning exposes students to challenges that require critical thinking and problem-solving. They learn to find new solutions and apply what they've learned.
  • Boosts creativity

    • Hands-on learning encourages students to think outside the box and explore new ways of working. This helps them dial into creative frequencies and fine-tune their understanding.
  • Encourages collaboration

    • Tactile learning helps brings students together to tackle projects and solve problems collaboratively. It encourages the exchange of ideas and enhances communication skills.

Examples of hands-on learning activities

When it comes to tactile learning, the most effective activities are those that involve creation and experimentation. These experiences should fill the classroom with the clatter of construction, the excited whisper of collaboration, and the buzz of genuine breakthroughs.

Caution! The following activities may cause extreme engagement and excitement…

  • Use puppets to retell stories

    • Bring stories to life by asking students to use puppets to retell classic tales. This way, they can foster creativity and comprehension as they animate narratives together.
  • Use clay to create a topographical map

    • Shape students understanding of physical geography by using clay to mold mountains, dig valleys, and craft topographical maps that rise from the desk.
  • Build a hockey simulator to demonstrate energy transfer

  • Build & test models that reduce the impact of earthquakes

    • Use LEGO® Education SPIKE Essential to give primary students the chance to build and test earthquake-resistant models. This lesson requires seismic proportions of creativity and critical thinking.
  • Explore coding by programming a safe-deposit box

    • Help unlock students’ understanding of compound conditional programming concepts by building and encrypting a super-safe-deposit box with LEGO® Education SPIKE Prime.

Assessing hands-on learning outcomes

When assessing hands-on learning, educators might want to try the following methods:

  • Observe

    • Watch students engage in tactile learning to review practical skills, as well as see how they approach tasks and adapt to challenges. This way teachers can get a formative indication of their progress.
  • Set performance-based assessments

    • Set tasks that ask students to demonstrate their skills and understanding. When learning leaps off the page and into practice, educators have a direct line to student comprehension and attainment.
  • Encourage students to reflect

    • When students reflect on their learning experience, they can solidify their understanding and provide educators with insights into their grasp of concepts and areas for development.
  • Don't lose sight of the goal

    • Tactile learning offers many benefits but be aware of potential pitfalls. One challenge is ensuring that activities remain aligned with learning objectives, as they can sometimes veer off course and become too open-ended. There's also the risk of unequal participation, where some students may dominate while others take a backseat.
    • Educators should regularly review and adjust their hands-on activities, ensuring they stay on track with curriculum goals. Encouraging equal participation and providing clear instructions can help ensure all students get the best experience.

How LEGO® Education facilitates hands-on learning

Impact, engagement, and motivation for students has never been more important. Whether it’s unlocking the wonders of science or piecing together tall tales in literacy lessons, LEGO® Education solutions and lessons offer versatile, holistic learning experiences that resonate with every learner, align with school standards, and complement curriculums perfectly. They engage the whole student by combining tactile, kinesthetic, and active learning principles, fostering crucial 21st century skills and a lifelong love for learning. That's what makes LEGO Education products special.