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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
science learning not only in informal environments, but also in more formal learning environments.
Science learning, and informal science learning more specifically, is a cumulative process. The impact of informal learning is not only the result of what happens at the time of the experience, but also the product of events happening before and after an experience. And interest in and knowledge of science is supported by experiences in informal environments and in schools. Although it is important to understand the impact of informal environments, a more important question may be how science learning occurs across the range of formal and informal environments. The science learning literatures and fields are segmented (e.g., into school learning, informal education) in ways that are at odds with how people routinely traverse settings and engage in learning activities. Thus, research should attempt to explore learners’ longer term, cross-cutting experiences. Further work should increase understanding of the connections or barriers in learning between more formal and more informal science learning environments.
The committee calls for additional efforts to explore science learning in longer term increments of time, tracking learners (rather than exhibits, tools, programs) across school and informal environments. Such research would allow researchers to examine the influence of experiences in different settings and over time and to explore how these experiences build on or connect to each other. It will require developing and refining research methods for tracking individuals over time and solving other problems pertaining to security of participants’ personal information and attrition.
Learning by Groups, Organizations, and Communities
One of the more difficult but important research challenges that the science education in informal settings community faces is developing the means to study learning, growth, and change at the level of a group, organization, or community. How do social groups learn science through dinner table conversations, visits to the zoo, science laboratory meetings, hobbyist interest groups, civic engagement, and other everyday activities? Such interactions influence not only the individuals who participate in them, but also the group itself. What are the relevant changes at the group level? The literatures are turning toward exploring the learning that takes place through social interactions, yet it remains unclear what factors (e.g., participant’s behaviors, attitudes, intrinsic interest) are responsible for the impact of these social exchanges and how they play out at the group or organizational level.