Real Life Vs. The Lab



Whether it’s in secondary school, higher education or professional training, the purpose of the lab has always been to allow learners to go beyond just theory. For many, the promise of a hands-on approach is a big part of the appeal of being in a STEM-related field. But do labs deliver on this? Does the learner’s experience in the lab really match what they’re likely to encounter in a STEM career? Perhaps not always, but by taking certain aspects of real-life experience into consideration, it can come closer.

  • In real life, risks are taken, mistakes are made, and you learn from them. Most engineers or programmers will tell you that a large part of their job lies in breaking things on purpose and finding effective ways to fix them. A representative lab experience lets learners go at their own pace wherever possible, leaving time for them to mess up a little, and find new and innovative ways to repair things.
  • In many STEM career fields, people work in partners or groups, and rightfully so. Innovation is often a team effort. A supportive lab experience should make the most of the opportunity to collaborate with others, especially in real time. This could include educators, other students, community members, or even learners at other institutions.
  • Whether it’s for the benefit of clients, managers, or colleagues, real work in STEM requires effective recording and documentation. Developing these skills in the lab means having learners practice capturing their progress and results on a regular basis, using a variety of media.
  • Creative writing may not be a part of most STEM careers, but being able to express one’s self definitely is. Any comprehensive lab experience must include learning to communicate with others, whether it be through documentation or social learning environments.
  • The new ethos of STEM entails not just reproducing previous results, but coming up with new and innovative ways of thinking. In the lab and in the job force, people are expected to think big and do better. An effective lab environment must go beyond just going through the motions and needs to encourage learners to explore on their own and try something new.
  • Work, in general, moves at a faster pace than it used to, and efficiency and productivity aren’t just prized, but expected. A lab experience that not only requires learners to figure out how they work best, but also presents a variety of approaches to learning, encourages the development of these valuable skills.

Making a lab experience as close to real-life experience as possible not only helps learners develop specific technical know-how, but also makes for better thinkers all around. This, in turn, results in transferable skills that will make them better students, and will follow them throughout their career.