what the participants remember about their experience and what they have done in relation to the content since. For example, Falk, Scott, Dierking, Rennie, and Cohen-Jones (2004) used follow-up interviews to explore how the cognitive outcomes of a visit to a museum varied over time. Anderson and Shimizu (2007) showed that many people remembered details of what they had done at a world’s fair or exposition decades previously, and Allen (2004) found that it was not unusual for visitors to say that a single exhibit experience changed the way they think about something in their lives. Spock (2000) lists some of the trade-offs of doing follow-up interviews soon versus long after the event and points to the connection between more profound potential outcomes and a longer time frame.
When learners are participating in an extended program (e.g., docents or watchers of a TV series), it may be feasible to conduct pre- and posttests of conceptual learning, similar to those used in schools, to test their learning of formal concepts. For example, Rockman Et Al (1996) used a series of multiple-choice questions to show that children who watched Bill Nye the Science Guy made significant gains in understanding that Bernoulli’s principle explains how airplanes fly. Another means by which researchers have assessed learning over extended time frames is by asking participants to write reflections in a journal, possibly to discuss with others and to share with researchers. Leinhardt, Tittle, and Knuston (2002) used this method to showcase the deep connections and knowledge-building done by frequent museum-goers.
This strand focuses on the activities and skills of science—including inquiry and reasoning skills, which are intimately related and often explored in research simultaneously with conceptual knowledge. However, we focus here on the ways in which researchers go after activities and skills of science specifically. Informal environments often provide opportunities for learners to engage in authentic inquiry using a range of resources, without pressure to cover particular content, yet with access to engaging phenomena and staff ready to support them in their own explorations and discoveries. The outcomes in this strand include scientific inquiry skills, such as asking questions, exploring, experimenting, applying ideas, predicting, drawing conclusions from evidence, reasoning, and articulating one’s thinking in conversation with others. Other outcomes are skills related to learning in the particular informal environment: how to use an interactive exhibit, how to navigate a website, how to draw relevant information from a large body of text, how to learn effectively with others of different skill levels—sharing resources, teaching, scaffolding, negotiating activity.