Hands-on Experiences Improve Overall Learning

Digital tools provide many opportunities for students to receive more personalized education experiences. Two recent studies show, though, that actual physical, hands-on interaction enhances learning and helps students understand concepts better. While neither study discounts digital tools, they suggest that an all-digital environment would not necessarily help students to reach their full potential.

Learning from Mixed-Reality Games: Is Shaking a Tablet as Effective as Physical Observation? by Nesra Yannier, Kenneth R. Koedinger, and Scott E. Hudson from Carnegie Mellon University
In this study the researchers wanted to determine the impact of mixed reality versus all digital learning on student performance. Kids ages 6-8 played one of four versions of the game EarthShake. Variations included an all-screen version, one in which they could shake the tablet to cause the earthquake, and one where they could control the earthquake with a physical switch. Their research found, “no evidence that adding simple forms of hands-on control enhances learning, while demonstrating a large impact of physical observation. A general implication for educational game design is that affording physical observation in the real world accompanied by interactive feedback may be more important than affording simple hands-on control on a tablet.”

“Research: Young Students Learn Better with Mix of Virtual and Real Worlds,” by Dian Schaffhauser, T.H.E. Journal (May 11, 2015)

“Learning from Mixed-Reality Games: Is Shaking a Tablet as Effective as Physical Observation?” CHI ’15 Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (2015)

Physical Experience Enhances Science Learning by Carly Kontra, Daniel J. Lyons, and Sian L. Beilock (Department of Psychology and Committee on Education, University of Chicago) and Susan M. Fischer (Department of Physics, DePaul University)
Using college-level students, this research looked at the performance of two groups: those who observed a physics concept and those who actually participated in a physical experiment. The experiment was performed in both a lab setting as well as with a college-level physics class. In both cases, the students who actually interacted with concepts explained in the lesson performed better on evaluations. “In many situations, when we allow our bodies to become part of the learning process, we understand better,” Beilock said to UChicago News. “Reading about a concept in a textbook or even seeing a demonstration in class is not the same as physically experiencing what you are learning about. We need to rethink how we are teaching math and science because our actions matter for how and what we learn.”

“Learning by doing helps students perform better in science,” by Jan Ingmire, UChicago News (April 29, 2015)

“Physical Experience Enhances Science Learning,” Psychological Science(April 24, 2015)

For more on digital learning tools in the classroom, come to the Content in Context session Edtech Reality Check on June 3 in Washington, DC. 

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Digital Issues