Does Hands-On Learning Have an Age Limit?


Encouraging hands-on learning for younger students is a no-brainer.  The thought of a kindergarten classroom with lectures and theoretical lessons is laughable. Even in high school classrooms, practical, applied learning is still seen as a staple, a necessary component when preparing learners for future career paths. However, as a recent Toronto Star article illustrates, many universities seem to adhere to outdated “sage on the stage” models of teaching, rendering learners passive recipients of knowledge, as opposed to active participants. The question arises: why is it an accepted norm to focus on applied learning when teaching children, but not young adults? Does the need for it really change that much as learners mature?

As is probably clear from our projects and partnerships, we agree that 21st century learners of all ages and levels need and want more from their education, and quite frankly, so do 21st century educators. Here are our reasons for supporting a more interactive, flipped model of classroom learning, even at the post-secondary level:

  • Class sizes at universities may be seen as prohibitively large, but even lectures can be made more interactive with the use of educational technology. Asking students to log in, complete small, regular tasks, take notes online, and interact with their instructors and other students in real time can shift the focus from a basic lecture and really ensure that learners are actually engaged. This isn’t to say that listening and note-taking skills aren’t essential, but rather that they can be better cultivated in a more interactive environment.
  • Lecture-based learning can be tedious for students (not to mention difficult for anyone who isn’t an auditory learner), but is often exhausting for the lecturer him or herself, and doesn’t give him or her a clear picture of what’s actually being absorbed and processed. The effort put into constructing and delivering materials this way could be put into designing interactive activities that actually ask learners to participate and contribute.
  • A more interactive approach to teaching university classes, with the right educational technology, can make assessment and evaluation more meaningful, not to mention easier to administer and mark. Instead of waiting until the end of the semester to find out that students haven’t understood, an instructor can check in at regular intervals without having to spend an exorbitant amount of time slogging through papers and exams.

Besides the cost of upgrading teaching methods and supplementing them with technological tools, there’s often a fear that in giving up lecture-based teaching models, instructors will be phased out. Although 21st century approaches do ask educators to change how they teach, approaching education as a partnership and redefining themselves as facilitators and co-learners, it does nothing to diminish the importance of a good teacher. In fact, it places even more importance on the presence of good teachers. It simply asks them to go beyond lecturing, and to really reach out to their learners. Even if those learners happen to be grown-ups, as is the case with university students, this is still essential. The bottom line is that 21st century learners need to be able to apply what they’ve learned, to think creatively and critically, in order to compete and adapt in the world outside of academic institutions.

We’re proud and excited to help educators in all kinds environments and institutions rise to the challenges of meeting the needs of 21st century learners. Contact us to find out how we can help you.