Place-based education (PBE) is not a new concept. If you’ve ever taken your students on a field trip to a museum, zoo or historical monument, then you’ve practiced PBE in some form. But beyond the occasional field trip to support the curriculum, many educators are unaware of PBE as an instructional method and of its benefits.

Getting Smart aims to change that. The learning design firm launched their thought leadership campaign, "Learning & the Power of Place," last July to learn more about PBE and normalize the approach in the education community. Its first publication What Is Place-Based Education and Why Does It Matter? provides an overview of PBE including definitions, overviews and examples.


What is Place-Based Education?

There are several working definitions of place-based education. The Center for Place-Based Learning and Community Engagement defined it as an immersive learning experience that “places students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences, and uses these as a foundation for the study of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum.” In partnerships with contributors through guest blogs and social media, Getting Smart arrived at a new definition:

“Place-Based Education is anytime, anywhere learning that leverages the power of place, and not just the power of technology, to personalize learning.”

According to their publication, it positions PBE as an innovative teaching approach that enables student agency, boosts access and opportunity and prioritizes deeper learning.

Place-Based Education in After School

Many after school programs are already positioned to implement place-based education with real, meaningful learning experiences that inspire students to learn and explore. To help reinforce the value of PBE, we’ve listed five reasons to implement it in your program.

Place-based education:

  • Enhances learning. PBE helps educators bring the curriculum to life through real, hands-on experiences. In return, students better retain skills and information they’ve learned, strengthen their critical thinking and problem solving skills and are more motivated to learn.
  • Promotes student-centered learning. Students are encouraged to own their learning and direct their path through it. They have to make decisions, tackle challenges, embrace creativity and be self-aware. The end goal is active, empowered learners.
  • Boosts academic outcomes. A 2015 case study by the Place-based Education Evaluation Collaborative (PEEC) found that place-based education boosts student achievement among other benefits. Earlier studies, like Placed-based Education and Academic Achievement show that PBE leads to higher scores on standardized tests as well as reduced discipline and increased engagement and enthusiasm for learning. 
  • Empowers students to be changemakers. PBE engages students in their local communities - instilling a lifelong sense of responsibility to others. Students can recognize and evaluate issues and discover innovative ways to solve them, like the students at Clark Street Community School who are learning how to use technology and music to impact families living with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
  • Increases access to innovative learning experiences. Place-based education can be implemented in rural or urban settings and from early learning education to colleges and universities. With the use of technology, virtual environments are also an option. By leveraging the power of place, students everywhere are able to experience innovative learning environments.


Place-based education provides a clear path to creating immersive learning experiences that transform students into engaged, knowledgeable citizens. To learn more, check out Getting Smart’s PBE blog series or search #PlaceBasedEd on Twitter.