and integration of previous research findings across fields. Several bodies of work on nonschool learning are well established, although they often exist in isolation from other areas and could be integrated more broadly. Research on informal environments for science learning could enhance the community-wide development of theoretical frameworks by (1) making their theoretical frameworks and influences explicit in research and evaluation reports and presentations, (2) further testing common theoretical frameworks in science learning activities and analyses, and (3) exploring how theoretical frameworks in other social science fields can inform science learning in informal environments.
Recommendation 7: Researchers and evaluators should use assessment methods that do not violate participants’ expectations about learning in informal settings. Methods should address the science strands, provide valid evidence across topics and venues, and be designed in ways that allow educators and learners alike to reflect on the learning taking place in these environments.
One of the main challenges at present is the development of means for assessing participants’ learning across the range of experiences. Currently, studies that measure similar constructs often include unique measures, scales, or observation protocols. For example, research on media and learning tends to take different methodological approaches depending on the type of media in question (e.g., television, radio, digital environments). While some of this diversity reflects responsiveness to real differences inherent in the learning characteristics of such media, the lack of coherence hinders synthesis of research findings and the development of reliable measures. Rigorous, shared measures and methods for understanding and assessing learning need to be developed, especially if researchers are to attempt assessment of cumulative learning across different episodes and in different settings.
At the same time, the focus of assessment must be not only on cognitive outcomes, but also on the range of intellectual, attitudinal, behavioral, sociocultural, and participatory dispositions and capabilities that informal environments can effectively promote (i.e., the strands). They must also be sensitive to participants’ motivation for engaging in informal learning experiences, and, when the experience is designed, assessments should be sensitive to the goals of designers.
Informal environments can be powerful environments for learning. They can be organized to allow people to create and follow their own learning agenda and can provide opportunities for rich social interactions. While this potential is often only partially fulfilled, research has illustrated that experi-