Although the process of learning itself is not necessarily different in designed settings than it is in everyday settings or in programs for science learning, designed spaces do use special methods for structuring, teaching, guiding, and prompting learning.
The scale of designed learning spaces varies, and so does the way that the public interacts with these spaces. At the institutional level, there are distinctions among the types of materials and objects housed or collected. Zoos, aquariums, and nature centers, for example, typically maintain live collections. Traditional museums and science centers typically (though not always) organize nonliving collections that may include scientific artifacts (e.g., mineral specimens), tools employed in scientific inquiry (e.g., telescopes), and pedagogical exhibits (e.g., a supersized panpipe designed to explore vibration and pitch). The substantive focus of a particular institution has important implications for its goals. For example, designed spaces with live animal collections may focus primarily on conservation goals—goals with observable behavioral implications (e.g., participants may make unique consumer choices that reflect a conservation ethic). Science centers may pursue somewhat broader or less easily observable goals, such as supporting future inquiry and inspiring curiosity.
Research on learning in designed spaces has provided evidence of learning across the strands. Some studies focus on the importance of developing scientific ideas and processes of science, in interaction with others (Ash, 2003; Crowley and Jacobs, 2002; Tunnicliffe, 2000). Other studies have described science learning in informal settings as an opportunity to appropriate the language or participate in the “culture” of science (Borun et al., 1998; Crowley and Callanan, 1998; Ellenbogen, 2003). Still others have explored the idea that learning involves a change in identity—specifically, how people view or present themselves, and how others see them (Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, and Cain, 1998; Wenger, 1999).
Before delving into the specific strands, we should not lose sight of the fact that individuals choose to spend their time in these settings and that this choice in itself can be seen as an indication of their participation in science (as indicated in Strand 5) and at least a weak proxy for learning. As mentioned in Chapter 1, the scale of participation in designed settings, though crudely estimated, is certainly vast: U.S. museums and science centers tally hundreds of millions of visits each year. While counting heads is no substitute for careful analysis of how learners participate and what they learn, and there are significant biases in terms of the cultural and demographic characteristics of individuals and families that tend to participate in designed settings, nevertheless the fact that large numbers of people choose to attend, often paying for admission, is an important measure for a field that is predicated on learner choice. In addition, attendance records and many