Heterogeneity Within Each Venue

Assessment, choice, and design characteristics define each type of informal learning venue. Yet it is important to note that there is great variability within each of the types of venue we have described. Consider everyday learning environments—which also frequently include use of materials and activities designed (or repurposed) to support science learning (e.g., commercially available science kits, locally fashioned and commercially available products associated with hobbies, collections of science-related media). Everyday learning environments are the most learner-driven and least externally structured of the three. Yet everyday learning can also be heavily structured by someone other than the learner, such as a parent or sibling. Others play a critical role in facilitating learning—asking questions, providing resources. It is also important to note that what may begin as one learner’s incidental inquiry, say about insects, can turn into something fundamentally different. For example, it is easy to imagine a parent or older sibling turning a child’s curious musing about the insects she has seen into a mini-assessment of the child’s technical knowledge of insect names or body parts. In this case, with the purpose and structure of the activity defined externally, the event can easily shift the learning focus and shut down the original inquiry and the child’s learning.


In this chapter we have argued science learning should be viewed as a lifelong, life-wide, and life-deep endeavor that occurs across a range of venues focused on multiple outcome strands of interest. We have observed that there are a range of perspectives in research on learning science in informal environments which, despite clear similarities and areas of overlap, have not been well integrated into a common body of knowledge. We see this as a critical goal for the advancement of learning science in informal environments as an area of educational practice and inquiry. We described an ecological framework that might hold some potential for researchers, designers, and educators to collectively view the informal learning of science as relating to the details of learning processes, mechanisms, and outcomes associated with people, places, and cultures. We have also introduced the organizational scheme of this report, which reflects the theoretical commitments we have introduced. Our analysis spans diverse venues and configurations, and a broad array of science learning outcomes and processes as indicated in the strands. The strands also reflect an effort to integrate the range of learning practices and outcomes used in prominent sociocultural and cognitive studies of learning and to focus these in science-specific ways. We hope that these perspectives may serve as the kernel of a shared framework to guide the accumulation of research findings on science learning and the design

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