FIGURE 2-1 Estimated time spent in school and informal learning environments.

FIGURE 2-1 Estimated time spent in school and informal learning environments.

NOTE: This diagram shows the relative percentage of their waking hours that people across the life span spend in formal educational environments and other activities. The calculations were made on the best available statistics on how much time people at different points across the life span spend in formal instructional environments. This diagram was originally conceived by Reed Stevens and John Bransford to represent the range of learning environments being studied at the Learning in Informal and Formal Environments (LIFE) Center. Graphic design, documentation, and calculations were conducted by Reed Stevens, with key assistance from Anne Stevens (graphic design) and Nathan Parham (calculations).

SOURCE: Stevens (no date).

In this chapter we begin by discussing some general theoretical perspectives of learning and exploring how some prominent frameworks used in research on learning in informal environments build on them. We then describe an ecological model of learning that provides multiple lenses for synthesizing how people learn science across informal environments. Building from the ecological perspective, we define the venues and configurations for learning and science learning strands that frame the remainder of this volume.


Research on learning science in informal environments reflects the diversity of theoretical perspectives on learning that have guided research. Over a century ago, scientists began to study thinking and learning in a more systematic way, taking early steps toward what are now called the cognitive sciences. During the first few decades of the 20th century, researchers focused on such matters as the nature of general intellectual ability and its distribution in the population. In the 1930s, they started emphasizing such

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