Traditionally, field geology and the use of outcrop analogues have been crucial to aid subsurface understanding, with fieldwork and excursions playing an important role in the training and continued professional development of multidisciplinary geoscientists. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a major disruption to industry training programs and university geoscience courses as travel restrictions and lockdowns created the need for digital alternatives. Although virtual field trips (VFTs) had been gaining traction prior to the pandemic, the sudden need to replace physical field activities has driven a rising interest to allow geologists and geoscientists to keep in touch with the rocks. In this contribution we present the state of the art of virtual field trips, covering the process of conceptualizing and building a VFT, as well as delivery methods available. We argue that VFTs have an important place in geoscience education, not as a replacement for physical field trips, but as a complement to assist participants’ orientation prior to a course, retention of learning outcomes post-trip, as well as an enabler of accessible and non-discriminatory experience of field geology to a wider group of people than those conventionally given the opportunity for physical excursions.
Central to the successful creation of virtual field trips is the availability of 3D virtual outcrops and other geospatial data to populate a VFT. Databases of virtual outcrops, such as SAFARI and V3Geo, make it efficient to create a high-resolution framework for a field trip, which is then used to integrate conventional field or subsurface data. Finally, the VFT leader adds their narrative and learning process around the 3D virtual environment and delivers the content to participants. A VFT can be organized by topic (e.g. depositional environment or structural setting) rather than restricted to a limited geographical area. In addition, a VFT can be created to fit any available timescale, from a tour lasting minutes to look at a particular geological feature, through to a multi-day agenda mirroring a conventional field trip. We illustrate our contribution using example VFTs designed for different audiences and geological topics.