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The differences between online and traditional education in a field guiding course

BY: Tasneem Johnson-Dollie

Between learning online and studying in the bushveld, which is better when it comes to field guiding? Well, it all depends on you. Let’s take a closer look to see why. 

A Bushwise Field Guides course is the ideal way to learn all about South African animals and the environments they live in. You can do this up close and personal on a practical field guide course in the savannah, or start off from a distance on an online web learning field guiding course. 

Either way, you’ll open up a world of experience in the field of conservation, and gain a solid understanding of South African animals. 

To help you make up your mind about whether or not an online learning or practical course is better for you, we’ve listed three of the biggest differences between online and traditional education in field guiding. 

The focus of field guiding courses

What are differences between online learning and being out in the safari?

It’s obvious that, when it comes to field guiding, online web learning is different to dashing out into the wild in a safari vehicle. But this doesn’t mean that you’re not gaining a valuable education when you learn online.

In fact, the best field guide courses can be effectively taught to students in face-to-face classes or through online web learning platforms. This is because the most important part of every field guide course is having trainers with expertise, and equipping students with the understanding and skills they need to become professional field guides. 

With these two components intact, the rest of the course can be built around the learning environment that students prefer.

Our approach to teaching may vary depending on the teaching environment, but every course is developed to achieve your field guiding learning objectives.

To become a professional field guide, you’ll need a Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) Apprentice Field Guide (NQF2) qualification, which includes logging 400 hours. Of this, 60% of your hours come from practical work, 20% from theoretical work, and 20% from self-study. 

Our field guiding courses are available on our online web learning platform too.

Our FGASA Field Guide training online course, one of our three online courses, can help you cover 100 of these hours. And, it’ll get you well on your way to your field guide qualification – without the worry of travel restrictions, global health concerns, or budget constraints that could benefit from a few more months of saving. 

Here’s a closer look at what you’ll cover in an online web learning course, and the biggest differences between online and traditional education in field guiding.

The biggest differences between online and traditional education in field guiding

What you’ll learn on an online web learning field guide course

If you’re wondering which parts of field guiding you’ll cover on an online course versus a traditional course, the answer is, all of them.

Yes, that’s right. An online field guide course will get you just as clued up on theory as any course that’s held at Bushwise’s campus in the bushveld. 

learning online will give you a head start to your in-field practical work like data collection

In fact, every reputable field guide course – whether it’s taught traditionally or via online web learning – should help you gain all the skills you need to set a good foundation for your future career.

When you take part in our FGASA Field Guiding online course, you’ll learn all about the South African animals that live in the savannah. These include amphibians, arthropods, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles. You’ll also add to your understanding of savannah plants, like trees and grasses. 

But, your online learning experience isn’t just about becoming book smart. It also prepares you to apply specific skills once you get out into the field. Start filling your field-guide toolkit with a deeper understanding of subjects like:

  1. astronomy

  2. conducting a guided experience

  3. conservation management

  4. ecology

  5. ethology

  6. geology

  7. historical human habitation

  8. radio procedures

  9. rifles and advanced rifle handling

  10. South African biomes

  11. taxonomy

  12. viewing potentially dangerous animals

  13. weather and climate. 

online learning prepares you to apply specific skills once you get out into the field like identifying animals like this rhino

Together, these theoretical components will fill you in on what you need to know to work as a conservationist in the field. 

So, the biggest difference between online and traditional education in field guiding isn’t what you’ll learn, but how you’ll learn it.

The classroom set up

On a traditional field guiding course, you’ll make your way to Bushwise’s campus in the Limpopo bushveld – just outside the gates of the Greater Makalali Game Reserve. And, while you learn online, you can look forward to travelling to this segment of the savannah in the future to complete your practical hours in the field. 

Just like the coursework based at the Limpopo campus, learning online will be an engaging and collaborative experience. You’ll interact with other students from all over the world, as well as lecturers who are experts in their field.

The FGASA Field Guiding online course includes an orientation period and ten weeks of coursework taught over 24 live sessions. Beyond adding to a comprehensive field guide education, these live sessions will also introduce you to the real-life challenges that conservationists experience in their line of work. 

Can you think of any other opportunity where you could gain firsthand insight from field experts in the comfort of your own home? 

Bushwise students get experts to teach them when they learn online

How you’ll gain experience with South African animals

You’ll work through a list of South African animals, from start to finish on any Bushwise course. The differences between online and traditional education in field guiding are really more about how much practical experience you’ll gain from observing animals in the field. 

Practical hours are important, but there are a few fundamental steps that need to be taken first. For example, you need to be competent in the taxonomy of animals before you can make any meaningful observations. 

What’s taxonomy, you ask? It’s the scientific way that animals are named, defined and classified. So, instead of trying to describe “that big buck with a black stripe on either side and curly horns”, course instructors can use specific and meaningful scientific names to make sure you’re all on the same page. 

And that’s not all. Animal taxonomy doesn’t just put a formal name to wild animals. It also acts as a clue to the lineage of all creatures, as well as their evolutionary history. 

If you get a good grasp on it, the taxonomy of animals can act as a quick guide to animal characteristics – like whether they are herbivores or carnivores. It’ll also get you well acquainted with which animals are the most closely related and why – since animals classified in the same family or species have more characteristics in common.

learn about the taxonomy of animals like the buffalo when you learn online.

If you choose to do a field guiding course online, you’ll end off with a stellar understanding of animal kingdom taxonomy. During an on-the-ground course, you’ll get to delve even deeper and clock-in valuable practical hours observing South African animals in their natural habitats. 

How will you start off your field guiding career?

There’s no right or wrong choice when it comes to which field guide course you should pick. Your decision should take into account what your travel restrictions are, how much time you can commit to the course, and how soon you want to start working as a field guide.

Yes, an on-site course will help you shoot ahead with practical hours, but to become a professional field guide, laying the right groundwork is key. 

Stay home and join one of Bushwise’s online professional field guiding courses or work in the bushveld on our on-site FGASA Professional Field Guide course.


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