What is Hands-on Learning?

Also known as experiential learning, hands-on learning is the more effective way in developing learners’ skills.

Hands-on learning is exactly how it sounds: it’s developing new knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) through active learning and direct hands-on experiences. Put simply, it’s learning by doing. The approach enables learners to be immersed in the environment they’ll be working in as they build and practice new skills on the way to achieving competency.

Rather than attending a lecture or viewing a PowerPoint presentation, hands-on learning requires active participation. For example, IT professionals learning the ins and outs of software or technology can be placed into one of the different types of virtual IT labs where they can complete objectives or tasks similar to what they’ll do on the job.


Traditional training methods have their place; however, there are some skills that can’t be learned in the traditional manner—at least not effectively. The pedagogy of actually performing the tasks and applying KSAs in a safe environment where learners can “fail forward,” receive immediate feedback and accomplish tasks on their own is significantly more effective. The Learning Pyramid shows that learners retain 30% more learning material and are more engaged with hands-on learning. The importance of hands-on learning cannot be ignored. 

The approach brings additional benefits, including

hiring and screen process with labs
Increases learners’ confidence backed by real evidence.

Only 12% of learners can apply new skills learned in learning and development (L&D) programs and apply them to real-world scenarios correctly. In contrast, hands-on learning provides learners with a safe environment in which to freely experiment and make mistakes. Once the primary training effort of developing new skills is complete, hands-on learners are more prepared and, therefore, more confident in making the connection between training concepts and actual work. Additionally, the proof of skill garnered by hands-on experiences proves to Instructors/Training Managers that learners are ready for on-the-job work.

Improves learners’ critical thinking skills.

Learners who are presented with real-world problems to solve must think through to the root of the objective/problem. They must be focused on the task at hand. By continuously rethinking and reviewing tasks or objectives and resolving them through hands-on practice, learners increase their critical thinking skills.

Green light bulb moment
simulation environment
Advances the ability to identify and overcome skills gaps and strengthens skill development.

McKinsey reports that 87% of companies worldwide either have skills gaps or expect to in the next few years. Hands-on training more effectively closes those skills gaps by providing more engaging, relevant hands-on practice which strengthens skill development. For example, a recent study around safety training found that material delivered through active methods such as hands-on activities, group discussions and gamification resulted in higher knowledge retention. Learners remembered 93.5% more of previously learned information compared to 79% of passive learners after one month.

what does the best hands-on learning for digital skills look like?

There is no effective substitute for hands-on learning; however, the way hands-on learning is approached matters.

The best hands-on learning environments for digital skills include:
  • Provide the same tools, technology and environments that learners will use on the job to complete real-world tasks
  • Real-time feedback that informs the learner of where they’re “getting it” and where they need more instruction
  • Ways to provide the learner varying levels of tips and guidance based on their skill level and comfort (i.e., adaptive learning)
  • Ability to scale learning experiences cost-effectively, securely and strategically
  • Methodologies to keep content current in the face of rapid technology change
  • Analytics and reporting that provide both proof of completion and training data to make informed decisions on skilling needs and gaps
  • And the pinnacle, the ability to incorporate validated skills development and performance testing (PBT), both of which provide proof of skill and that learners are, in fact, “job ready.” 


Skillable can help you provide these types of hands-on learning experiences. The hands-on practice that improves skills retention and engagement, the validation that learners are properly learning and applying skills and the data you need to make informed decisions on how to upskill your workforce, customers and partners. Request a free 30-minute consultation.

Learn more about Skillable’s hands-on experiences and the benefits of using validated skills development in learning and development strategies.