Oregon State University


The Free-Choice Learning Lab at Hatfield Marine Science Center

Oregon Sea Grant's Free-Choice Learning program, headed by Dr. Shawn Rowe, uses the Visitor Center at Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) as a living laboratory for studying self-paced, leisure-time lifelong learning. We are interested in how this learning occurs and what informal science education venues can do to enhance visitors' learning experience. 


Free-Choice Learning

"Free-choice learning" is the most common type of lifelong learning, self-sought learning activities that often take place outside a classroom setting. Free-choice learning is self-motivated and guided by the needs and interests of the learner. Oregon Sea Grant is invested in studying how people learn through these activities.

A generous grant from the National Science Foundation has allowed us to install a research infrastructure within the Visitor Center, using emergent technologies to study behavior, capture responses and adapt exhibit content to visitor needs.Volunteers and visitors interact around the octopus tank.

The Visitor Center

The Visitor Center at HMSC, located in the coastal city of Newport, Oregon, allows visitors from all walks of life to discover and explore the science of the seas. Interactive and static installations, interpretive presentations and live animal exhibits create a dynamic learning environment in which visitors can learn and create meaning.

Admission to the Visitor Center is free, with an option to donate. This means the Visitor Center is truly open to all, serving visitors with diverse backgrounds and interests. Visit the Visitor Center website to learn more.  

Marine Research

HMSC also plays host to a number of marine research institutions, including The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife (USDFW) and the Envronmental Protection Agency (EPA). This puts our education researchers in close contact with a wide variety of marine scientists and their work. The Visitor Center thus marries the cutting edge of marine science with that of science education.

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