family (Bell, Bricker, Lee, Reeve, and Zimmerman, 2006; Ellenbogen, Luke, and Dierking, 2004; Astor-Jack, Whaley, Dierking, Perry, and Garibay, 2007; Ash, 2003; Crowley and Galco, 2001; Ellenbogen, 2002, 2003; Borun et al., 1998). In this context, learning is defined as “a joint collaborative effort within an intergenerational group of children and significant adults.” Outcomes include learning science concepts, attitudes, and behaviors and also learning about one another and the members of the group, as well as shaping and reinforcing individual and group identity. Family learning approaches are grounded in sociocultural theories and are currently transforming the way some museums and science centers are reorienting their missions, educational strategies, and experiences.

Other perspectives have been used to inform evaluation studies of learning in informal environments.

  • Community of Practice (see Lave and Wenger, 1991) is a framework used to guide development and assessment of community-based efforts and professional development projects. This framework offers insight into participants’ trajectories from science novices (peripheral members of the science community) to more active and core members, engaging in authentic science and sometimes even participating in apprentice-like activities with scientists, engineers, and technicians.

  • Positive Youth Development and Possible Selves frameworks have been used primarily in assessing youth programs (Koke and Dierking, 2007; Luke, Stein, Kessler, and Dierking, 2007). They are grounded in sociocultural theory and address the broader developmental needs of youth, in contrast to traditional deficit-based models that focus solely on youth problems, such as substance abuse, conduct disorders, delinquent and antisocial behavior, academic failure, and teenage pregnancy. Positive Youth Development describes six characteristics of positively developing young people that successful youth programs foster: cognitive and behavioral competence, confidence, positive social connections, character, caring (or compassion) and contribution, to self, family, community, and ultimately, civil society. Possible Selves (Stake and Mares, 2005) proposes that individuals’ perceptions of their current and imagined future opportunities serve as a motivator and organizer for their current task-related thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors, thus “linking current specific plans and actions to future desired goals.”

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