Hands on experience meets virtual learning: Practical magic?

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As virtual learning is embraced at an increasing rate, educators and learners alike are finding that an element of hands-on experience is perhaps more critical than ever to the process. The phrases “real world experience” and “virtual learning” might seem contrary, but a growing demand for practice labs has brought this piece of tech education to the forefront. Hands-on labs are crucial for tech learners because they are where theoretical knowledge is forged into practical skills. Imagine learning to ride a bike just by reading a book – sure, you might understand the mechanics, but you won't be pedaling down the street anytime soon.

Here are five reasons why hands-on labs are like the training wheels that get tech learners rolling:

  1. Solidify Understanding: By actively working through labs, learners can visualize abstract concepts and cement their understanding in a way that passive learning, like watching lectures, often can't. It's like the difference between memorizing a map and actually walking the streets – the latter gives you a deeper sense of the terrain.

  2. Develop Practical Skills: Labs provide a safe environment to experiment, make mistakes, and learn. Unlike the pressure of real-world projects, labs allow learners to try out new technologies, troubleshoot issues, and refine skills without fear of consequences.

  3. Boost Confidence: Successfully completing labs gives learners a sense of accomplishment and builds their confidence in their abilities. This newfound confidence can motivate them to tackle more challenging tasks and persevere through setbacks.

  4. Enhance Problem-Solving: Labs often present learners with real-world scenarios and challenges that they need to overcome. This sharpens their problem-solving skills and teaches them to think critically and creatively.

  5. Prepare for the Workforce: Many tech jobs require employees to hit the ground running and be immediately productive. Hands-on labs provide learners with the practical skills and experience they need to make a smooth transition from the classroom to the workplace. It's like having a sneak peek into the tech world before you officially join the workforce.

More than memorization

Hands-on labs are not just an add-on for tech learners; they are an essential ingredient for success. They provide the platform to test-drive new skills, build confidence, and prepare for the exciting world of tech. Successful outcomes aren’t just aspirational: Proof can be found in places like Troy High School. When they won first at the National Cyber Patriots XI Competition in 2020 - out of a record breaking 6,387 teams registered – their instructor credited their access to labs as part of their learning. Allen Stubblefield, cyber defense teacher and coach at Troy High School, used ACI Learning’s practice labs in their weekly after-school cybersecurity program. The specialized program has approximately 400 students ages 10-18.

“Practice Labs really help us reinforce skills after we teach the theory,” he said. Stubblefield’s program is considered a top tier tech offering for students, and he credits the hands-on aspects of it to much of the student success.

But he is among a growing number of educators who recognize the value of labs and real-world experiences for younger learners too.

Consider a recent report by Industry Dive, which examined why states like Virginia are increasingly revamping standards and allowing school districts more flexibility to create career tech education opportunities. Experts say that career exploration – and the hands-on experiences they offer – are an important part of high school. Artificial intelligence — and how it may change opportunities for students — is of particular interest to ACTE’s members, experts said, noting anything science, technology, and engineering-related is going to have a connection to AI and a lot of other careers too, so CTE programs need to shift to prepare students for jobs in those industries.

On a similar note, a recent article in EdTech: Focus on K-12, noted that ed tech professionals studying the impact of screen time on students found higher levels of student engagement when teachers used gamificationtools; when teachers provided student voice and choice to display student mastery; and when they prioritized communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.School district leadership said the exercise showed district and school-level administrators the importance of meaningful, engaging technology integration within the classrooms. It also revealed the importance of planning for technology integration by identifying the tools, the structure for integration and the purpose behind the technology use.

The future of learning is here

The future belongs to the tinkerers, the coders, the builders. By prioritizing technical programs and hands-on labs, educators are not just equipping students with valuable skills, they’re igniting their imaginations and preparing them to shape the world of tomorrow. Today’s technology education tools can empower educators to turn students into lifelong learners who are engaged, independent and confident in learning as an exploration. In many ways, with the continued rise of e-learning and its many tools, it feels like the future has already arrived. Engaging students in learning and giving them hands-on experiences has never offered such diverse opportunity.

The new era for learning is here. Are you ready to take your team's learning and development to the next level? Interested in learning more about how your team's training can meet and exceed your expectations? Achieve it all with myACI Learn >>

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