BOX 2-1

Perspectives on Informal Environments for Science Learning

A variety of perspectives have been developed to understand, define, or evaluate science learning in informal settings. Most of these perspectives have attempted to provide a broader frame for learning outcomes yet are compatible with the nature of learning in informal environments. These frameworks are based on or framed in terms of cognitive and sociocultural theories.

  • The Contextual Model of Learning (Falk and Dierking, 2000) is a general framework for understanding informal or free-choice learning (see also Falk and Storksdieck, 2005, for an application and quantitative validation of the model). The model focuses on 12 key personal, sociocultural, and physical dimensions of learning. The model stresses visitor agenda, personal motivation, the sociocultural nature of learning, the importance of physical context, and long-term outcomes.

  • The Multiple Identities Framework, grounded in situated cognition, explores factors associated with deciding what kind of person one wants to be or fears becoming and engaging in activities that make one part of the communities associated with a particular identity. It has been used to examine women negotiating the worlds of science and engineering, as well as race and gender in workplace settings (Tate and Linn, 2005; Packard, 2003).

  • Third Spaces is a theoretical construct that lends itself to nonschool learning (e.g., Gutiérrez, 2008; Eisenhart and Edwards, 2004). Third spaces are outside the two typical spheres of existence: home and work or home and school for children. For telecommuters, for example, a coffee shop where they spend the work day could be construed as a third space. Third spaces are places where participants’ everyday and technical (or scientific) language and experiences intersect and can be the site for fascinating accounts of informal learning.

  • Situated/Enacted Identity (Falk, 2006; Rounds, 2006) focuses on audience expectation and audience agenda in terms of true, underlying interests that are intimately linked to the audience’s enacted identity during a visit or free-choice learning experience. This framework is based on a large body of literature that considers the entry narrative of the visitor as a key factor in understanding motivation and learning from an informal learning experience.

  • Family learning, though not a theoretical framework per se, has been an important way of reframing informal learning experiences, changing the focus from any single individual in a learning group, such as the child, to the entire

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