Hands on classes

How to handle practical training in a vocational environment, and how to make these lessons really count.

With almost all vocational training, practical lessons are a must. They give students the chance to put the theory into practice, gain confidence with their skills, and make mistakes in an environment where this is beneficial to their development instead of being detrimental.

The City & Guilds Institute says there are three main kinds of vocational education:

One group is concerned with working with physical materials. This includes hair stylists, chefs, and tradespeople, including carpenters, electricians and plumbers.
The second group is focused on people. This can include care workers, teachers, sports coaches, nursery workers, and many kinds of inter-personal roles.
The third group work with symbols (numbers, letters and text), in administration, using software to produce accounts, designs, content, and spreadsheets.

Each group requires practical training, but then again, this training will look very distinct for each group. A massage therapy class and a boiler repair class will look very different, for example. They are however united by certain principles, which are important to follow to make sure the students get the best out of the practical lesson.

Watching and imitating:

This method is one of the main starting points of practical vocational training. Students can watch a skilled demonstration, and then attempt to copy the methods employed. They can also gain confidence and competence by experimenting through trial and error, and finding their own way of completing a task.

Feedback and conversation:

This method is vital for charting progress and improving performance. By observing the student completing a task and then critiquing their mistakes and encouraging aspects of proficiency, the vocational teacher can support improvement, and foster practical confidence.

Real-life practice:

Your students can learn a great deal through real-world problem solving. This can be through learning on the job, with positive supervision, or they can be presented with a problem from a real world example, and be challenged to come up with a practical solution, gaining confidence through success.

How to make your practical lessons work for your students

By giving opportunities for hands-on practice, vocational training gives students a real opportunity to learn through repetition. It is important that every student has the chance to see a demonstration, and receives constructive and useful feedback on their work.

It is very easy for students in these situations to miss points of a demonstration if they are unable to see it clearly, or hear the teacher properly, so small classes, or dividing up the classes so that each demonstration is not overcrowded may be the most practical solution.

Giving your students the right guidance

Whether it is a physical task such as bricklaying, an interpersonal task such as teaching, or an administrative task such as constructing a spreadsheet, providing timely and tailored feedback is vital to ensuring progression and practical competence. The key is maintaining a balance between theory and practice, and making sure the lessons are engaging. In this way you can foster a learning environment that is informative, practical, and enjoyable.