Field trips are a key component of learning in STEM disciplines such as geoscience to develop skills, integrate knowledge, and prepare students for lifelong learning. Given the reported success of technology-based learning and the prevalence of new forms of technology, especially with immersive virtual reality (iVR) entering the mainstream, virtual field trips (VFTs) are increasingly being considered as an effective form of teaching to either supplement or replace actual field trips (AFTs). However, little research has investigated the implications of VFTs in place-based STEM education, and empirical evidence is still limited about differences between students' learning experiences and outcomes in VFTs experienced on desktop displays and field trips experienced in iVR. We report on a study that divided an introductory geoscience laboratory course into three groups with the first two groups experiencing a VFT either on desktop (dVFT) or in iVR (iVFT), while the third group went on an AFT. We compared subjective experiences (assessed via questionnaires) and objective learning outcomes for these groups. Our results suggest that, although students reported higher motivation and being more present in the iVFT group, they did not learn more compared to those in the dVFT group; both VFT groups yielded higher scores for learning experience and perceived learning outcomes than the actual field site visit. These findings demonstrate positive learning effects of VFTs relative to AFTs and provide evidence that geology VFTs need not be limited to iVR setups, which lead to considerable equipment costs and increased implementation complexity. Discussing the results, we reflect on the implications of our findings and point out future research directions.