that inform learning science in informal environments. Our charge specifically included assessing the evidence of science learning across settings, learner age groups, and over varied spans of time; identifying the qualities of learning experiences that are special to informal environments and those that are shared (e.g., with schools); and developing an agenda for research and development.

The committee organized its analysis by looking at the places where science learning occurs as well as cross-cutting features of informal learning environments. The “places” include everyday experiences—like hunting, walking in the park, watching a sunrise—designed settings—such as visiting a science center, zoo, aquarium, botanical garden, planetarium—and programs—such as after-school science, or environmental monitoring through a local organization. Cross-cutting features that shape informal environments include the role of media as a context and tool for learning and the opportunities these environments provide for inclusion of culturally, socially, and linguistically diverse communities.

We summarize key aspects of the committee’s conclusions here, beginning with evidence that informal environments can promote science learning. We then describe appropriate learning goals for these settings and how to broaden participation in science learning. Finally, we present the committee’s recommendations for practice.


Do people learn science in nonschool settings? This is a critical question for policy makers, practitioners, and researchers alike—and the answer is yes. The committee found abundant evidence that across all venues—everyday experiences, designed settings, and programs—individuals of all ages learn science. The committee concludes that:

  • Everyday experiences can support science learning for virtually all people. Informal learning practices of all cultures can be conducive to learning systematic and reliable knowledge about the natural world. Across the life span, from infancy to late adulthood, individuals learn about the natural world and develop important skills for science learning.

  • Designed spaces—including museums, science centers, zoos, aquariums, and environmental centers—can also support science learning. Rich with real-world phenomena, these are places where people can pursue and develop science interests, engage in science inquiry, and reflect on their experiences through sense-making conversations.

  • Programs for science learning take place in schools and community-based and science-rich organizations and include sustained, self-organized activities of science enthusiasts. There is mounting evidence

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