Hands-on laboratory training

Practical hands-on training sessions for laboratory staff which are conducted remotely (the trainer and the trainees are at different locations) whose purpose is to demonstrate how to handle laboratory equipment or carry out laboratory processes.

Area of application

Staff from calibration and metrology laboratories need to be trained on a number of practical skills such as how to handle laboratory equipment, instruments and materials, perform certain technical procedures and processes, record and analyze measurement results, as well as follow some basic principles of laboratory techniques and best practices in laboratories. One of the most effective training methods is the hands-on one, which applies the principle of learning by doing. Such training sessions in a laboratory setting can be quite complex and have a strong practical focus in that they function best when there is an in-person demonstration by a trainer and an opportunity for physical handling of the equipment by the trainees. However, on-site presence is not always possible (especially in the context of a pandemic) and training sessions are adapted to be conducted remotely with the help of audiovisual equipment (multiple cameras, audio speakers, etc.) as well as software applications (video streaming, remote access, virtual labs, etc.) to compensate for the fact that the trainer and the trainees are not together in the same space.


Virtual hands-on laboratory training sessions are highly interactive. They require continuous exchange between the trainer, the trainees and the equipment. The trainer provides detailed instructions and assesses the understanding and practical skills of the trainees through feedback, whereas the trainees try out the procedures in front of a camera and immediately ask questions and clarifications.  The trainee group size should be kept small to ensure that all participants have the opportunity to practice the procedures that are being taught and work with the equipment. The actual number of participants can vary depending on the available space in the laboratory, the type of training and the prior knowledge of the trainees. In some cases one-on-one training sessions might be most effective and in other cases up to 12 participants may be appropriate. The determining factor is to make sure that all participants have a chance to interact with the equipment and with the trainer.

It is important to keep in mind that there are several possible scenarios for the remote training setup and make an effort to align the design of the training course with the particular scenario. The ideal – and least likely – scenario is that both the trainer and the trainees are in their respective laboratories and both laboratories are equipped with similar equipment. In this case, the trainer can stream his or her demonstration to the trainees and the trainees can repeat in their lab while the trainer observes them.

Sometimes the trainer is a freelance expert who used to conduct training sessions on site before the pandemic and might not have an access to a laboratory. In this scenario, only the trainees have an access to the laboratory and are all there together. While the trainer cannot demonstrate procedures, he or she can direct the trainees and observe the process.

It is possible that in some cases the trainer can perform the training sessions from a laboratory, but the trainees cannot be together in a laboratory and are all watching from separate (home) locations.

Finally, the least advantageous interaction scenario is that neither the trainer, nor the trainees are in a laboratory at the time of training session. In this case, practical exercises are almost impossible.

Virtual mode

The central challenge with the virtual mode of practical hands-on laboratory training sessions is that the demonstration of the equipment or the process / technical procedure cannot be performed in person.  Small but important details could be missed. Unlike theoretical training courses which can be easily adapted to a virtual environment, the practical laboratory training course requires literally hands-on engagement and direct observation of the equipment. Another challenge with the virtual mode is that sometimes the trainer does not have access to exactly the same equipment or settings as in the laboratory where the trainees are. An advantage of the virtual mode is that it makes trainees much more attentive and active. They are more motivated to prepare in advance because they cannot rely on the trainer being next to them in the laboratory and have to instead perform all the steps by themselves.


Before the first training session:

As in all virtual formats but even more so for a practical hands-on laboratory training course, investing in the preparation for the virtual training course is key to its success.  It is recommended that the trainer set up preliminary meetings with the laboratory staff. The information exchanged during these meetings is crucial for the appropriate design of the training course and the choice of remote-collaboration platforms and tools.

One of the purposes of the preparatory meetings is to understand the training needs and to evaluate the skills level of the staff in order to align them with the objectives of the training. In other words, it is important to be pragmatic about what can be achieved through remote training given the laboratory setup, the available equipment and the trainees’ prior knowledge. In planning the training sessions it is important to keep in mind that less can be accomplished remotely than on site within the same timeframe. This is because it takes longer to explain something than show it. In addition, technical glitches will usually arise. The specific objectives and outputs of the training course, including what concrete skills the trainees should acquire, need to be agreed as well.

Another goal of the preparatory meeting is to evaluate the level of the trainees in terms of their prior knowledge and experience, technical skills and competencies and language abilities. Have trainees worked with similar equipment before? Are most trainees roughly at the same level or some participants are more advanced than others? Will real-time interpretation be needed? Such information can be collected either through interviews or through a written questionnaire to be filled out by the trainees.

Thirdly, it is important to collect technical information. The trainer needs to get a view of the laboratory environment and equipment and ask in advance questions about the hardware (exact model, settings, etc.), software, reference materials, consumables needed during training sessions as well as to request equipment manuals and other documentation. The trainer needs to ensure that all the necessary tools and accessories (e.g. cables, adaptors, chemicals, glassware, pipettes, etc.) are available.

Finally, the preparatory meeting should be used to discuss and agree on the logistical details of the remote training course: choice of streaming platform, eLearning tool, number of cameras, who will operate them and how, frequency and scheduling (time and length) of the sessions. For a series of practical hands-on training sessions, it is recommended to schedule short sessions over a pre-defined period of time. For example, a series of hands-on training sessions could consist of three sessions per week each lasting from 1 to 3 hours over a period of one month.

The preparatory meetings also have the added benefit that the trainer and the trainees get to know each other and feel more comfortable during the training sessions.

To make most use of the training time, it is recommended that both the trainer and the participants prepare as much as possible in advance. The trainer should carefully plan out all the steps for the each training session and break them down into sub-tasks. He or she should upload corresponding training materials (own slides, own pre-recorded videos, available online tutorials, external guidelines, checklists, diagrams, bibliography, etc. ) to a cloud or the eLearning platform agreed during the preparatory meeting and share them with participants before the training sessions. It is useful to provide, for example, lists and diagrams with all the needed connections for trainees to review in advance. The participants need to prepare by reviewing the materials so that the training time can be dedicated to hands-on practice and skills acquisition. In addition to designing the training course, the trainer also needs to prepare by reviewing the equipment manuals, checking instrument settings and, if necessary, pre-recording a video that can be provided as preparation material for the trainees. Setting up a script for the training, outlining all steps and sub-tasks together with required equipment, extensions and materials might help to structure it in a realistic way, including efficient use of online tools.

Closer to the commencement of the first training session, it is recommended to conduct a technical check with a designated staff member from the laboratory to test that everything can run smoothly during the training session. This includes preforming camera and sound checks as well as making sure the lighting is appropriate.

During the training sessions:

Each training session might be split in the following sequence: introduction into the subject and the session, demonstration, provision of clear tasks with clear objectives (preferably for each participant), observation how they are resolved and guidance, if questions come up, evaluation of the performance and discussion of lessons learned.

One common difficulty with remote practical training courses is that instructions and directions can be misunderstood. To avoid this, the trainer should regularly pause, ask the trainees to repeat and allow for questions.

In designing the training course, it is good to allow enough time to give opportunity to all participants to try out and get comfortable with the equipment. It is also a good idea for the trainer to demonstrate not only the correct way of doing something but also mistakes and how to avoid them. It is important to remember that demonstrating the correct procedure is only a small part of the training. The bigger learning potential lies in trainees attempting the procedures on their own, making mistakes, getting feedback and asking questions.

The standard guidelines for online trainings and events (e.g. mixing methods, using breakout groups and building in frequent breaks) apply to virtual hands-on laboratory trainings as well. To keep participants focused and engaged, the training should be as interactive as possible.  Before providing answers, the trainers should give the participants the possibility to raise questions and get into the topic themselves. During the training, the trainer can continuously ask simple questions like “Where do you think this cable goes?” or “What do you think will happen if we do X?”.

Apart from group demonstrations, coaching is an important part of hands-on trainings. Coaching usually happens during the practice step and again during the instructor's follow-up, after the formal training course ends. It is a constant back-and-forth between the trainer and the participants.

It could be a good idea to record the training sessions for future reference of the laboratory staff. However, the agreement of all participants needs to be obtained in advance. It is important to keep in mind that recording the training sessions might make some trainees feel less comfortable and willing to participate and ask questions.

Between training sessions, it is a good idea to assign practical independent tasks for the trainees to complete such as performing their own measurements while keeping notes of any difficulties and questions that might arise. The trainer can set aside time to answer any questions during the following session or in a post-training meeting.


After the training sessions:

A post-training workshop can be a good way to conclude the training course. The meeting can be used to summarize the results achieved, clarify remaining questions and share any additional resources, including supplemental online training activities, e.g. web-based training. Self-assessments could be set up. The trainer could consider a spaced eLearning approach. In this case the online training material needs to be periodically revised.

Another objective of the closing meeting is to provide timely feedback to the trainees. Feedback should be personalized and should include specific recommendations to each participant for areas for further improvement. Finally, the post-training meeting can cover a discussion of any follow-up steps (e.g. coaching options), and ask trainees to provide feedback on the training course by filling out an evaluation form.




On the one hand, less time is required as there is no travel to the laboratory. However, additional time for preparation and organizational meetings and communication before the training course needs to be budgeted.



On the one hand, no travel and accommodation expenses are incurred in virtual training sessions.

On the other hand, the trainers need to put more hours’ work into the preparation of the training course. This includes time to conduct preparatory meetings, draw up checklists and other materials and upload them, pre-record videos or animations (if necessary), conduct technical checks prior to the training session, etc.



Software Applications

There are a number of tools and applications that can be used to support remote trainings. When choosing them, it is important to keep in mind and comply with the data protection and privacy regulations in the location of the trainer and trainees. The software applications mentioned below serve only as examples. Before use, users should check whether they comply with the General Data Protection Regulation and other applicable legislation as well as meeting IT security requirements.



  • Trainer:
    An expert who conducts the hands-on lab training remotely.
  • Technical support person:
    It could be a good idea to assign a person from the laboratory whose sole responsibility is to set up the cameras, operate them and manage other connectivity tools so that everyone else can focus on the training. The same person can also conduct a technical check prior to the training.


Suzana Lange

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