common constructs and language because they make it possible to clearly connect to and build on the work of their peers and predecessors to guide their work. Practitioners can benefit from common language and constructs because they facilitate clear communication, which is central to developing strong, dynamic professional cultures. The field itself benefits from common constructs that identify the commitments, core practices, and knowledge of the field for outsiders and newcomers to the field. Many individuals and organizations, including philanthropies, government agencies, and volunteers, are interested in science learning in informal environments. They need to understand the field well enough to engage with the work, support high-quality efforts, and assess its overall value to society.
Can clear, common constructs and language be identified? What are the goals of learning science in informal environments? What is known about leverage points for learning across the diverse settings involved? What are the possible relationships between schools and nonschool settings for science learning? What strategies allow educators to serve diverse audiences? How should one construe the influence of everyday learning, and how might it inform educational practice? Can the digital media age be harnessed to improve science learning? These are the kinds of questions that prompted this report.
With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Research Council established the Committee on Learning Science in Informal Environments to undertake this study. Selected to reflect a diversity of perspectives and a broad range of expertise, the 14 committee members include experts in research and evaluation, exhibit design, life-span development, everyday learning, science education, cognition and learning, and public understanding of science. In addition, the committee membership reflects a balance of experience in and knowledge of the range of venues for informal science museums, after-school programs, science and technology centers, libraries, media enterprises, aquariums, zoos, and botanical gardens.
This study was designed to describe the status of knowledge about science learning in informal environments, illustrate which claims are supported by evidence, articulate a common framework for the next generation of research, and provide guidance to the community of practice. The report covers issues of interest to museums, after-school programs, community organizations, evaluators, researchers, and parents. The committee’s work was directed toward the following goals: