sages, brief interpretive guides, and occasionally docents or interpreters to facilitate learner engagement. They are designed to serve a diverse public in the myriad social configurations they assemble. Thus, individuals, families, and teen peer groups are all understood as participants whose needs and interests should be accommodated in designed spaces.
Individual learners and groups play an important role in determining their own learning outcomes in designed spaces (Moussouri, 2002). Contemporary views of learning as an active, constructive process have led to increased attention to learners’ motivations, prior experiences, tacit knowledge, and cultural identity (National Research Council, 2007). While professional educators—designers, facilitators, teachers, curators—have scientific, social, practical, or other goals for participants, these are achieved only in partnership with learners. This is particularly salient in designed spaces, where learners are not assumed to operate under strong cultural pressures to participate or achieve a particular goal, as they may be pressured to do in schools, educational programs, and workplace settings. Participants in designed science learning settings control their own learning agenda.
The science learning that takes place in designed settings is shaped by elements of intentional design, personal interpretation and choice, and chance. The environment—both large-scale characteristics of the institution and small-scale features of exhibits and programs—helps to guide or mediate the visitors’ attitudes or perspectives, their relationship with the content and the institution, the meaning of their activity there, and how the institution views them. Learners typically participate of their own volition and at their own pace. They may be scientific experts or novices, or anyone in between.
Not surprisingly, experiences in these spaces are often designed to elicit participants’ emotions or sensory responses to scientific and natural phenomena. For example, zoos and aquariums may develop conservation themes linking plant, animal, and human well-being. Science centers use multimedia to engage multiple senses, or build larger-than-life models that make phenomena visible and inspire participants’ awe. Emotional and interactive sensory experiences are design priorities, though they are typically accompanied by particular informational or cognitive goals as well.
From the perspective of science learning, a key educational challenge for designed spaces is to link emotional and sensory responses with science-specific phenomena. Associating scientific thinking with engaging and enjoyable events and real-world outcomes can create important connections on a personal level. Promoting or supporting a variety of emotional responses (surprise, puzzlement, awe) and a variety of processing modes (observation, discovery, contemplation) increases the likelihood of connecting with a greater variety of people and encouraging them as learners (Jacobson, 2006).