at the Hatfield Marine Science Center

Applying scientific research to enhance informal science education

Learn about research opportunities and what we can offer

Welcome to the Free-Choice Learning Lab

Located at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon, the Free-Choice Learning Lab is a facility for studying how people learn in informal learning environments. Using cutting edge observation, tracking and recognition technology installed in the living laboratory of the HMSC Visitor Center, we study visitors’ learning styles and approaches, and offer our facility and equipment for researchers who would like to undertake related projects. Our lab framework is also conducive to studying a broader range of topics, including behavioral, sociological, psychological, science communication, and linguistic questions.

What is Free Choice Learning Anyway?

Do you remember a time when you decided to watch a documentary on TV, read an interesting book while sitting in the sun, take your family on a nature hike, visit a local art museum, start a new hobby, or set up a Twitter account not knowing anything about social media?  Each of these choices is a form of learning, but one that happens outside our formalized schools and training institutions.

Free-Choice Learning (FCL), as the name suggests, is about our life-long learning experiences outside of formal education, experiences in which we choose and have some degree of control over what, where, when, how and with whom we learn.

Why and How Do We Study FCL?

We are interested in how Free-Choice Learning occurs at our Visitor Center, and how informal science education venues can enhance learning experiences for visitors. We conduct cutting edge research using emergent technologies such as our 35-camera network installed in the HMSC VC to study behavior, capture responses, and adapt exhibit content to visitor needs. Projects have included observing how visitors use new mobile technologies in an exhibit setting, examining how families learn together, and understanding what and how people learn from scientific images generated by satellite data. Read More!

Browse Our Website

We tried to fill the site with everything that we are, but that’s just unrealistic isn’t it?! While you will find pages on our lab’s tools, research spaces, and a long list of results, partners and publications you won’t see the way we work, or the enthusiasm we have for understanding people - that takes a phone call or a visit -  Connect with us!

What Can We Learn from Our Visitors?


Our Blog: Recent Posts

August 29, 2016

New Web site!

We have a lot of variety in our work here at the Cyberlab, and we talk about it with visiting researchers, VIPS, and parter universities multiple times a week. Those specific conversations bring us a lot of projects and collaborations, but how do you cram hundreds of unique conversations about your work into one place …

August 1, 2016

More on Dialogic Research

By Shawn Rowe For the past couple of posts, I’ve written about trying to the take the work of Mikhail Bakhtin seriously in designing and carrying out learning research. I wrote about the need for the voice of the researcher to enter into real dialogue with the voices of learners, and I wrote about the …

August 24, 2015

Cyberlab: will it change the way we do research?

I am so excited to write this blog today and talk about a groundbreaking event Cyberlab is hosting this week. Believe it or not, it all started with my fascination for a reality TV show called project runway, where fashion designers are thrown into a fast paced design competition through a series of timed challenges. …