instructor or facilitator was the ability to connect with the needs and interests of the learners and to help them discuss, integrate, reflect on, and apply new insights. In fact, for many participants, building a meaningful relationship with these facilitators was the most important part of the program. It is through such relationships that adult learners grow in their knowledge and understanding of a given topic.
As a way to explain the varying reactions adults have to programs in informal settings, Sachatello-Sawyer uses the image of a pyramid. Acquiring new knowledge and skills is at the bottom of the pyramid, followed by expanded relationships, which involve more contacts in the community and new friends. At the next level, adults report increased appreciation of a topic as indicated by their pursuit of additional experiences and discussion of the subject with knowledgeable individuals. Changed attitudes or emotions follow from the previous step, revealed through heightened self-confidence and taking the initiative to pursue new activities.
As adult learners reach the apex of the pyramid, they experience what Sachatello-Sawyer refers to as transformative experiences. Such experiences have caused learners to reevaluate their lives and make life-changing decisions, such as to leave one career for another or to find meaning in new experiences. One learner reported that floating in the Grand Canyon made her realize that she “had a place in the cosmos and was part of the timeless nature of the canyon.” While it is difficult to foster such life-changing experiences, it is a goal to which program developers can aspire.
To illustrate an informal science program for adults and the learning that takes place, consider the next case study. Like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s birdwatching program (Chapter 2), the case study also is an example of citizen science. But instead of focusing on gaining insight into animal biology and behavior, the purpose of this program is more practical: to track wildlife that crosses Highway 3, a busy road that cuts through the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada. With greater awareness of the animals’ habits, the possibility of developing interventions to reduce the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions increases.