The more educational research I read, the less happy I become with the anecdotal, unsubstantiated nature of most of it. So it's a delight to read a well conducted, and more importantly from the point of the literature, well analyzed, study (including effect sizes - hallelujah!).
So can you use the Internet to teach practical skills? Not really, not if they're real practical skills and not just content smuggled in under the guise of "practicals". Students learn practical skills by doing.
An evaluation of online learning to teach practical competencies in undergraduate health science students. The Internet and Higher Education. doi: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2014.09.003
The aim of this study was to evaluate the use of online delivery as a pedagogical approach to teach the practical and theoretical skills required for resting ECG electrode placement and interpretation.
Comparable results were found for all variables between the two groups, apart from electrode placement, whereby students in the classroom based group were significantly more accurate than their counterparts in the online group (p < 0.05). The effect size of this difference was large (0.91), whereas the effect size for all other measured variables were classified as small (0 – 0.49).
Online learning is an effective study mode in both theoretical and practical application; however consideration must be taken of the types of practical skills which it is used for. More complex practical skills requiring haptic awareness may best be delivered within a classroom setting if feasible, whereby the instructor can provide immediate feedback.