or culturally important to learners (e.g., how learners tend to communicate with one another). Identifying common ground between learners’ practices and practices in the domains of interest may be a productive route to experiences that move learners toward deeper understanding and capability in the domain. For example, individuals learn to reason in science by crafting and using forms of notation or inscription that help represent the natural world. Crafting these forms of inscription can be viewed as being situated within a particular (and even peculiar) form of practice—creating representations and models—into which students need to be initiated.

All three theoretical perspectives have had some influence on the design of informal environments that support science learning. As a result, a number of theoretical views are in play in the research and they are not particularly well integrated. This limits the degree to which the study of learning science in informal environments functions as a field. In Box 2-1 we describe a few examples of perspectives on learning science in informal environments. We note that most draw on the cognitive and sociocultural traditions rather than behaviorism. Also, the list in Box 2-1 is intended to illustrate the range of perspectives and is not exhaustive.

An Ecological Framework for Understanding Learning Across Places and Pursuits

A broad theory, or set of complementary perspectives, which could be refined through empirical testing, could help integrate the range of theories and frames currently in use (as represented in Box 2-1) and help generate core questions. To move in that direction, we propose an “ecological framework for learning in places and pursuits” intended to highlight the cognitive, social, and cultural learning processes and outcomes that are shaped by distinctive features of particular settings, learner motivations and backgrounds, and associated learning expectations. The term “ecological” here refers to the relations between individuals and their physical and social environments with particular attention to relations that support learning. The framework draws mainly from cognitive and sociocultural theories.

Our proposal is consonant with other calls for using an ecological perspective for accounts of human development and learning that can accommodate a range of disciplinary perspectives as well as the diversity of life experiences in a global society (Barron, 2006; Lee, 2008). It builds on a tradition of scholarship on the ecological nature of human development. This tradition has long recognized and taken into account the compound set of influences on learning and development originating from a person’s experiences across myriad institutional contexts and social niches (family, school, playground, peers, neighbors, media, etc.) (Bronfenbrenner, 1977).

Within the ecological framework, we describe three cross-cutting aspects of learning that are evident in all learning processes: people, places, and

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