WolfQuest and the Science Café represent two very different informal science learning experiences. One is for children and teens, and the other is for adults. One is a computer game that is played at home for as long as the learner is engaged, and the other is an organized one-shot event. The goals of WolfQuest were also very different from those of the Science Café. The developers of WolfQuest were experimenting with the learning opportunities available through gaming; Wiehe and his colleagues were trying to provide an enjoyable evening of conversation about science, with the hope of whetting the participants’ appetites for more.
Despite the significant differences between the settings, WolfQuest and the Science Café share an important element that characterizes much of everyday learning in science: learning can be generated by entertaining engagement that is designed to create further interest and a desire to learn more about the topic. The players develop knowledge and skills as a means to succeed in a game, and their success is synonymous with learning at least some science, along with developing positive attitudes toward the topic itself, as exemplified by their growing interest in wolves. The patrons of the Science Café experience the dialogic nature of science and are exposed to a researcher who personalizes science and provides authenticity. In both cases, the learning experience is shaped by to the environment: gamers play and pub patrons talk and discuss.
Furthermore, in both the computer game and the Science Café, the program designers built on the learners’ prior knowledge and interests. Schaller and Spickelmier did so by using the features of gaming that kids enjoy and embedding science content into that framework. Once the players were hooked on the game, they began learning the science content. Wiehe used a video clip to capture the interest of the audience and prepare them for Marshall’s talk. To further this engagement, both programs connected with the participants in multiple ways. In the case of the Science Café, this was by engaging them in a discussion of a topic that was intellectually stimulating and emotionally provocative. By playing the computer game, the participants were involved physically, by manipulating the computer mouse to make decisions about their wolf avatars; emotionally, by taking on the persona of a wolf; and cognitively, by learning what they needed to know to ensure that their wolves survived. Also, participants were allowed and encouraged to follow their own interests. At the Science Café, Marshall allowed people’s interests to direct the conversation, even if it was a topic with which he was less familiar.