Although there is a diversity of thought in the informal science learning community about what outcomes are most important and what approaches to measuring them are most appropriate, there is an emerging consensus on core assumptions regarding the nature of outcomes in informal science learning.4 This consensus aligns with the three criteria mentioned earlier.
Outcomes can be broad in nature. Currently, many types of individual outcomes are being investigated by researchers and practitioners in the field. The breadth of these outcomes is captured in the six-strands framework. Measurements of outcomes could also allow for varied personal learning trajectories and for learning that is complex and holistic, rather than narrowly defined.
Outcomes can be unanticipated. Outcomes can be based on the goals and objectives of the program, or they can be unplanned and unanticipated, based on what individual learners find to be most valuable. Researchers and practitioners typically begin with outcomes that are defined in advance but then add outcomes that emerge from learners’ experiences.
Outcomes can become evident at different points in time. While short-term outcomes have long been used to assess the impact of informal learning experiences, it is becoming increasingly evident that these experiences can have enduring, long-term impacts as well.
Outcomes can occur at different scales. To date, most outcome measures are focused on determining how the individual was influenced by the experience. But it is also useful to consider how the entire social group was influenced. For example, did group members learn about one another? Did they reinforce group identity and history? Did they develop new strategies for collaborating with each other? In addition, outcomes can be defined on a community scale, measuring how an activity, exhibition, or program affected the local community.
In practical terms, the kinds of assessments that work best in informal settings are likely to be the ones that most closely match the setting’s learning activities. Before drawing conclusions about whether a particular experience has led to a particular outcome, researchers and practitioners should ask themselves: