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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
of the people they serve. One can argue then, that, as institutions, informal environments for science learning are characterized by a flexibility and openness to changes in the communities, societies, and cultures of which they are a part. In order to do justice to both informal environments and those served by them, efforts to identify, measure, and document learning should be expansive enough to accommodate the full range of what and how they may help people learn.
At the same time, researchers and practitioners recognize the importance of building consensus in the field regarding standards for research methods and learning outcomes (Bitgood, Serrell, and Thompson, 1994; Loomis, 1989). Without a common framework specifying outcomes and approaches, it is difficult to show gains in learning that occur across localities or across time frames, and attempts to portray the contributions of infrastructure for science learning that exists across varied institutions and activities will continue to be hindered. Efforts to create more rigorous, meaningful, and equitable opportunities for science learning depend on understanding what opportunities for science learning exist across the educational landscape, what the nature of this learning is in the variety of environments, how outcomes currently complement and build on one another, and how designs, processes, and practices for supporting learning can be improved in the future. Developing new ways to document learning outcomes that are both appropriate in informal environments and useful across the range of them would create greater opportunity to leverage their potency to improve science learning for all.
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