New research suggests that major growth in the travel, leisure and tourism industry in the coming century may be possible as more people begin to define recreation as a learning and educational opportunity — a way to explore new ideas and cultures, art, science and history.
But in a recent study published in the Annals of Tourism Research, John Falk, Oregon Sea Grant Professor of Free-Choice Learning, says that increasingly affluent and educated people around the world are ready to see travel in less conventional ways, and that lifelong learning and personal enrichment can compete favorably with sandy beaches or thrill rides.
“The idea of travel as a learning experience isn’t new, it’s been around a long time,” said John Falk, an international leader in the free-choice learning movement. Falk is among a group of Sea Grant professionals focusing their research on how people learn in their free time – through travel, in museums and aquariums, and through other experiences outside conventional classrooms.
At OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Dr. Shawn Rowe and colleagues are working under a $2.6 million National Science Foundation grant to create a Free-Choice Learning Laboratory, using high-tech tools to observe and analyze use of the Center’s public aquarium exhibits and what people take away from them.
Falk, meanwhile, holds one of two Free-Choice Learning professorships established by Sea Grant with the OSU Department of Science and Mathematics Education, which has developed a masters’ degree program in the emerging discipline.
Writing in the Annals of Tourism Research, Falk and his partners from the University of Queensland, Australia explore travel as part of a “life-long and life-wide” learning experience, tracking the history of travel-for-learning back through the centuries, and examining how the experience has grown and changed in recent times.
“You’re already seeing many tour operators and travel agencies offer educational opportunities, things like whale watching, ecotourism,” Falk is quoted as saying in an article about the new research published today in Science Daily. “The National Park Service does a great job with its resources, teaching people about science, geology and history. The push for more international travel experiences as a part of formal education for students is an outgrowth of this concept.
“We’re convinced this is just the beginning of a major shift in how people want to spend their leisure time, and one that could have important implications for intellectual and cultural growth around the world.”
- Learning-based tourism an opportunity for industry expansion, Science Daily, Jan. 30 2012
- Travel and Learning, a Neglected Tourism Opportunity, Annals of Tourism Research, December 2011
- Oregon Sea Grant’s Free-Choice Learning program
- Free-Choice Learning Lab Blog
- OSU Masters of Science program in Free-Choice Learning