Supporting Learning for Diverse Groups

Informal environments for science learning may be particularly important for science learning for diverse groups. Research exists on how different groups participate in various venues, but questions remain about how to best empower science learning for diverse groups through informal learning environments. Research has documented that participation in many venues (e.g., designed informal settings, science media) is skewed toward the dominant cultural group and those most interested in science, although there are several important exceptions. School group visits to designed settings, community-based organizations and after-school programs, and exhibitions designed around local scientific or health issues have all been observed to serve a more diverse audience, in part because they are often designed with underserved populations in mind (as described in the committee’s conclusions). Yet there is variability in the success of these environments in attracting and engaging their diverse audiences. A better understanding of the naturally occurring science learning in nondominant and dominant cultures is needed to inform basic theory and to design learning experiences that meaningfully attend to the cultural practices of diverse groups.

Media

Media, in particular television and Internet resources, are the most sought-out tool for learning about science. Meanwhile, through media, the nature of learners’ interactions with science has changed. Many people now have at their fingertips immersive, interactive platforms that allow them to pursue their interest in science. Through various forms of digital media—blogs, virtual spaces, wikis, serious games, RSS feeds, etc.—access to scientific ideas and information and knowledgeable others has become, if not pervasive, at least widespread.

It is unclear whether more frequent use of media is the by-product of engagement in and enjoyment of science learning experiences, or vice versa. Existing studies, with the exception of extensive research on television, are primarily correlational in nature, indicating that there is a relationship between enjoyment of science learning and frequency of use of media, but these studies do not indicate whether one factor causes the other or if there is a complex dynamic of interacting influence. Further studies are needed to determine whether the use of tools, such as media for science learning, promotes interests in science, whether interest in science inspires the use of such tools, or both in specific ways.

Arguments about the transformative power of media for informal science learning are based on very modest evidence and warrant further investigation. Many emergent media forms allow users to receive and send information, leverage resources to communicate with huge numbers of learners, and honor



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement