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.

About Our Lab and Program

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 such as HMSC’s Visitor Center. Our results often reveal how informal science education venues can enhance learning experiences for visitors. We develop 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 different types of families navigate the VC and learn together, and understanding what and how people learn from scientific images generated by satellite data.

We also provide a research platform for outside investigators who would like to ask similar questions. Our camera equipment can be adapted, programmed, and moved to answer a range of specific questions, and then accessed remotely from your home institution. We can even install our cameras elsewhere, including in outdoor environments.

What does all of this mean for your research program? We can help you design projects that track individuals and groups in an informal science learning environment. We can record what visitors say to each other about what they’re seeing. We can identify individuals by race, age, and gender and track them from area to area within the VC. We can record visitor interactions with exhibits and each other, and index those recordings so you can go back and review them. We can use our equipment to record training sessions to evaluate their efficacy. Our system is like having 30 videographers working at one time, providing searchable video and audio records for any time frame or interval you need.

Interested? Ask about:

  • Attending one of our IGNITE events where we bring researchers and evaluators to the lab for a week and give them the chance to learn about our tools, design a short project, collect data and present their findings to their colleagues.
  • Becoming a guest researcher at our facility.
  • Customizing our equipment and research platforms to address your research interests.