Authentic Learning Experiences with Virtual Field Trips and Interactive Virtual Expeditions

There are abundant opportunities to embed networked communities in STEM education. Especially, both virtual field trips (VFTs) and interactive virtual expeditions (IVEs) offer authentic learning opportunities for students in the classroom. Both technologies are valuable in terms of providing students with real-life experience and engaging learning process. Niemitz et al (2008) reported that “the use of interactive virtual expeditions in classroom learning environments can theoretically be an effective means of engaging learners in understanding science as an inquiry process, infusing current research and relevant science into the classroom, and positively affecting learner attitudes towards science as a process and a career (p. 562).”

In addition to authentic learning experiences,  virtual field trips and IVEs can take students to locations that are too far away to travel to or too expensive to visit. Virtual field trips can take a student back in time, into outer space, or into the microscopic world, all of which are tours regular physical field trips cannot offer.

The availability of these technologies enables educators to design experiences that some students would otherwise not have access. In so doing, these technologies enhance and extend student learning. For example, having students visit the North Pole via live animal cams or explore volcano sites through Volcano World enables students to experience these natural phenomena and animals in ways they would otherwise be difficult. This brings the student learning process to life. The process can further be enhanced when educators incorporate interactions with networked communities as part of these virtual experiences.

The research has found that students should be able to acquire the same cognitive and qualitative gains if a virtual field trip is planned and conducted in the same meticulous fashion as a real-life field trip. The researchers also reported that virtual field trips can enhance learning (Cox & Su, 2004) and provide a supplement to actual field trips (Spicer & Stratford, 2001).  VFTs can still “offer valuable tools for instructional augmentation and enrichment of actual field trips” (Klemm & Tuthill, 2002, p. 464).   As such, VFTs should not be seen as a replacement for real-world field trips but rather as a supplement to them when real life travel is possible.  

I believe that the success of virtual trips and expeditions depends on the level preparation for the learning experience and the quality of student engagement while on the trip. The trip should be followed by a carefully planned reflection to enhance the learning process (Cox & Su, 2004, p. 120).


Cox, E.S., & Su, T. (2004). Integrating student learning with practitioner experiences via virtual field trips. Journal of Educational Media, 29(2), 113-123.

Niemitz, M., Slough, S., Peart, L., Klaus, A., Leckie, R. M., & St John, K. (2008). Interactive virtual expeditions as a learning tool: The School of Rock Expedition case study. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 17(4), 561-580.

Spicer, J. I., & Stratford, J. (2001). Student perceptions of a virtual field trip to replace a real field trip.  Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17(4), 345-354.

Tuthill, G., & Klemm, E. B. (2002). Virtual field trips: Alternatives to actual field trips. International Journal of Instructional Media, 29(4), 453-468.



  1. Thanks for the great post!

    I’m curious regarding the statement: “The research has found that students should be able to acquire the same cognitive and qualitative gains if a virtual field trip is planned and conducted in the same meticulous fashion as a real-life field trip.” The word SHOULD is of particular interest to me. I’m not so sure I agree with this statement. Being immersed in an environment would seem to afford more qualitative gains than a virtual field trip. I have to look this up and do some more research on this!

    1. Hi Natalie

      Thank you for pointing out the cognitive and qualitative gains of utilizing Virtual Technologies. I found a couple of papers discussing VR/VW and the authors argue that virtual technologies enhance cognitive learning process through better engagement. Shin (2006) states that “VR is experiential computing environment to provide a context for both cognitive and affective learning by engaging students in a process that is rational and emotional, practical, organized and spontaneous. Also, Iqbal et al (2010) discussed the results of studies that utilized virtual worlds to engage learners.

      Please check out the following references:

      Iqbal, A., Kankaanranta, M., & Neittaanmäki, P. (2010). Engaging learners through virtual worlds. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2(2), 3198-32

      Shin, M. (06/30/2006). 한국지구과학회지: A study on pre-service teachers’ perception of learning environment in earth science with using virtual reality (VR): An exploratory case.

  2. Hi!

    I really enjoyed reading your post and agree that the main benefit of technology, such as virtual fields is to extend and enhance learning opportunities for students.

    His’s article this week mentioned the following “A general trend is that information technologies are becoming more and more distributed, changing the scope and geographies of children’s learning environ- ments. Learners have multiple opportunities to take a more active role in defining and choosing when and what activities they engage in and with whom in everyday settings. However, ensuring that IT will be used effectively to advance education will require careful design and evaluation to ensure that the settings and social contexts of IT use are both ethnical and prosocial, providing equitable access to a diversity of groups and users while also allowing personalization to occur.”

    For older students, I think it is important that educators provide access to multiple perspectives, and as you said, ” incorporate interactions with networked communities as part of these virtual experiences.” This would be very interesting to see museum information, coupled with two polar perspectives, when debating topics that might be more contentious such as environmental topics.

    Thanks for your post!


    Hsi, S. (2008). Information technologies for informal learning in museums and out-of-school settings. International handbook of information technology in primary and secondary education, 20(9), 891-899.

    1. Hi Cristina

      I absolutely agree with you regarding the important aspect of designing virtual learning environment carefully. As educators, we need to facilitate both ethical and safe learning environments utilizing educational technologies.


  3. Hi,

    This is an exciting area. I have gone to a few Microsoft 365 PDs this year and they have been pushing Skype in the Classroom Virtual field trips ( They also demonstrated a real-time translating tool in Skype that allowed you to seamlessly talk with an expert connected to the trip in different languages. I haven’t had a chance to do one yet but other teachers have said it was easy to access and set up.

    1. Hi Derek

      Thank you for the link. It is exciting to see virtual technologies are helping learners and teachers connect all around the world. Especially, technologies assist learners in overcoming language barriers and to promoting collaborative learning as a community.

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