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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
closely connected to individual interest or life circumstances. Adults tend not to be generalists in their pursuit of science learning; instead, they tend to become experts in specific domains of interest in relation to the problems of everyday life (as discussed in Chapter 4). Thus, they become knowledgeable and conversant about concepts and explanations in specific domains (Sachatello-Sawyer, 2006).
Many of the venues in which adults engage with science, both as facilitators and as learners, cross somewhat artificial boundaries between “everyday life” and out-of-school programs. For example, as chaperones of family or school groups visiting informal institutions, adults support the science learning of others by answering questions, leading group discussions, and using various other strategies. In their everyday experiences, they build their own understanding of science through observations of the natural world, attending to media-based science programming, and through conversations with other adults. Of particular interest for this chapter is that adults may then choose to engage in more program-based learning to pursue topics of interest. However, adult learners have repeatedly been found to identify informal institutions as essentially geared toward children, not their own adult learner interests (Sachatello-Sawyer, 2006). This point is critical to understanding science programming for adult learners, because the adult perception is often mistaken. In fact, informal institutions host and organize many adult programs, and they could potentially engage more adults if they were perceived as interested in adult learners.
This section describes a variety of programs for adult science learning in informal settings. It includes programs associated with cultural institutions (e.g., museums, universities, science centers, labs, clinics) and ones developed and sustained by self-organized science enthusiasts and activists. It also includes health-related programs and programs designed for K-12 teachers and science educators in informal settings. We also examine the unique considerations of, and programs designed for, older adults. Most of the studies the committee reviewed are descriptive and did not focus on learning outcomes, so a strand by strand synthesis of the literature was not plausible. Instead, relevant strands of learning are highlighted in the description of each program type.
Characteristics of Adult Programs
Sachatello-Sawyer and colleagues (2002) surveyed over 100 institutions that offer science learning experiences across the country to assess the number and type of adult programs. The studies surveyed staff and participants from informal institutions of varied sizes and types (e.g., art institutes, natural and cultural history museums, science centers, botanical gardens) and across types of programs (e.g., credited and noncredited classes, teacher training classes, guided tours, lectures). They found that nearly all institutions offered