“Media” can mean many things and take many forms. It can refer to the content of a printed story or a broadcast image. It can refer to the technology used to convey a particular form of information (e.g., television, newspapers, museum signs). It can be modified to indicate the affordances of a particular medium: “interactive media” or “targeted media” or “mass media.” The field of media studies ranges from critical analyses of the content of particular story forms, through quantitative correlations of content analyses and public opinion, to detailed analyses of eye movements while interacting with websites. Traditional scholarly distinctions between “mass media” and “interpersonal communication” have in recent years been challenged by the need to create new perspectives that account for the interactions among these approaches.

In the context of science learning, however, the existing literature remains largely tied to older forms of analysis, dividing reasonably well into the traditional categories of “mass media” and “interactive media.” It is also important to acknowledge that media may be used differently across social contexts. For example, a television documentary created for home viewing may also be shown in classrooms, as part of a museum display, or in a computer-based learning environment. In order to assess the effects of media on science learning, one must consider the ways in which they are appropriated and used across different informal settings.

In this chapter, we begin with summaries based on the traditional categorization of mass media. We then move on to suggest ways in which newer modes of analysis might shed light on learning science in informal environments. What tools exist, and how can they be made available to the public? How can individuals and groups access and leverage the knowledge of others through media? How can individuals and groups make their own insights more broadly accessible? We limit our analysis to areas in which research attends to learning outcomes and to issues of emerging or pressing interest in the field (such as new technological tools employed for educational purposes and the pervasive influence of digital technologies in everyday life).


Although print media has the longest history, few studies have explored the specific effects of print on science learning. Many studies have identified the content of science books (both popular books and textbooks), magazines, including science specific magazines (such as Popular Science or Scientific American), and newspapers, making claims about the scientific quality and promotional or ideological effects of the content (Bauer, Durant,Ragnarsdottir, and Rudolfsdottir, 1995; Bauer, Petkova, Boyadjieva, and Gornev, 2006; Broks, 2006; Burnham, 1987; Dornan, 1989; Hansen and Dickinson, 1992;

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