Centre for Teaching and Learning

Centre for Teaching and Learning
Centre for Teaching and Learning

Field-Based Learning

What is Field-Based Learning?

In field-based learning, teaching is extended to a site outside of the classroom or laboratory, exposing students to a real-world setting. Students learn though direct interaction with an environment that reflects taught concepts rather than learning through indirect presentations of the setting such as textbooks or lectures.

Queens’ Bader International Study Centre (ISC) at Herstmonceux Castle in Essex, U.K., uses field based learning as an essential part of the curriculum. 

Why use Field-Based Learning?

Field-based learning may serve a diverse range of teaching aims and goals as students are provided with a perspective of materials, objects or phenomena that are not accessible in, or fully appreciated through, other settings.

Field-based learning is generally chosen because the experience:

  • provides an opportunity to present materials, objects or phenomena that are not accessible otherwise to students in a way that enables direct contact and interaction
  • provides students with an opportunity to practice skills or techniques that cannot be carried out elsewhere
  • stimulates higher understanding and reinforcement of previously learned classroom material
  • stimulates an appreciation for, concern or valuing of the visited environment

(Lonergan, N. & Andresen, L.W (1988) field-based education: some theoretical considerations. Higher Education Research & Development, 7 (1) 63-77.)

Field-Based Learning Teaching Strategies

When teaching one-day field studies:

Prepare: Establish the basic narrative/descriptive elements of the material to be studied on the field study before the trip takes place.  This might be accomplished in the form of a lecture in class, or via a handout distributed beforehand. In addition, point the students towards any useful websites. This strategy gives you the advantage of working in an analytical mode while you are on the field study site, rather than being limited to describing to the students what they are seeing.

Awareness: Teach and foster a self-conscious awareness of the site. Many students may be unaware of the history, significance or background of a site that is necessary for critical consideration of the environment. 

Engage: Encourage students to ask questions of guides, to interact with the site and its environment, or chat with other visitors. What, for instance, do local visitors say about the site: do they react notably differently to our group?  Why?

Meta-Learning: Have students think about how what they experience at the site complicates or contradicts what they have read or discussed in class. How might they account for any such differences? How does the medium of learning affect their  conclusions?

Build Upon: Leave time for discussion on site while the issues are fresh; always follow up field studies with a discussion in class once students have had time to meditate on their experiences

Illustrate: Try, where it is useful, to find new or slightly oblique ways to teach concepts. For example, a Literature and Philosophy class on theorisations of subjectivity visits a gallery specialising in contemporary British conceptual art to address the core issues of the course visually rather than textually.

Assess: Set assignments on what students learn on field studies: this will ensure students pay careful attention to what they experience

Resources for Field-Based Learning

Articles and Books

Adams, A., Davies, S., Collins, T., & Rogers, Y. (2010). Out there and in here: design for blended scientific inquiry learning. In: 17th Association for Learning Technology Conference ALT-C 2010 -, 07–09 Sep 2010, Nottingham, UK.

Atchinson, C. L., & Feig, A. D. (2011). Theoretical perspectives on constructing experience through alternative field-based learning environments for students with mobility impairments. In, A. D. Feig & A. Stokes (Eds), Qualitative Inquiry in Geoscience Education Research (Special Paper 474). Boulder, CO: The Geological Society of America Inc.

Bogo, Marion (2010). Achieving competence in social work through field education. University of Toronto Press.

Caprano, M. M., Caprano, R. M., Helfeldt, J. (2010). Do differing types of field experiences make a difference in teacher candidates' perceived level of competence?. Teacher Education Quarterly, 37, 131-154.

Nicholson, D. T. (2011). Embedding research in a field-based module through peer review and assessment for learning. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 35 (4). doi: 10.1080/03098265.2011.552104


Research in the Geosciences

Field-based coursework for business students