Maybe you were the kid in science class whose eyes lit up when you mixed baking powder and vinegar and watched the concoction bubble and rise. If so, you must have gotten an even bigger charge when you crossed two wires to make "lava" rush out of a makeshift volcano. Your teacher probably nodded approvingly, for you validated the tenet that "hands-on equals minds-on."

As a small-business owner, you may want to replicate the lesson from your school days now that it's time to offer training to your employees. You have alternatives, but after assessing the benefits of hands-on training, you may agree that your teacher knew how to impart a lesson with staying power.

Mull Your Options

Traditional classroom instruction remains a popular form of business training, perhaps because it's relatively easy to organize, and most people feel comfortable with the format. An instructor stands before a room full of attendees and delivers a presentation, perhaps using visual aids and handing out supporting materials.

Some people refer to this type of instruction as a lecture – a stodgy term that probably won't engender much excitement among your employees. Unless it's purely a one-way discourse with the instructor doing all the talking, it's perhaps better referred to as a seminar, where attendees can ask questions both during and after the presentation.

Live seminars have been augmented by technology to include:

  • Podcasts
  • Web seminars, more commonly known as webinars
  • Online, self-paced and prerecorded training courses
  • Hybrids of the latter two.

Hands-On Training Is Kinesthetic

Training methods often require attendees to integrate three learning styles: visual, auditory and reading and writing. A fourth learning style, known as kinesthetic, is distinguished by people undertaking a physical activity with their own two hands.

Instead of listening to someone explain how to navigate customer relationship management (CRM) software, they tinker with the program themselves. Rather than watching a PowerPoint presentation on shooting a video, they hold a camera and shoot one. Instead of reading about sales techniques, they may engage in role-playing exercises and follow-up critique sessions.

In all these scenarios, people engage in hands-on practice to master a new skill.

Take the Benefits in Hand

Hands-on training has other benefits. It can break down any mental barriers, too, and show adults that yes, they can learn a skill if only they give it a chance. Hands-on training gives them no choice other than to tackle it minds-on.

At the same time, this tactile method is beneficial because it will:

  • Increase engagement, which improves attention and focus. Just as engaged employees tend to be more productive at work, engaged learners tend to absorb and retain more information.
  • Encourage participation, especially if the hands-on training requires employees to interact with each other or the instructor. 
  • Create a safe environment to make mistakes. It sends a powerful message when employees see that they're not the only ones who struggle to synthesize information or have to hear the same lesson twice. They are free to make mistakes that sometimes impart the most resilient lessons.
  • Link theory and practice. Even with the best of intentions, attending a seminar or watching a webinar may go only half the distance without a hands-on application. When employees master a new skill, they are usually eager to put it into practice.
  • Empower employees to look beyond the immediate training to develop other skills. Once they've sampled success, these self-directed learners can be a huge boon to your business.
  • Deliver a greater return on your investment, which is probably part of the reason you're offering the training in the first place. Since hands-on training is active, not passive, you can expect your employees to retain what they learned.