clubs. Similarly, libraries are becoming multifunctional community centers for informal or free-choice learning. Just as museums are now more than repositories for artifacts, libraries provide access to many resources in addition to books: the Internet, message boards, talks, courses, programs, and even exhibits on science and health in some instances. These kinds of linkages and collaborations are discussed further in Chapter 9.
The chapters of this book draw on this rich body of research to elaborate on how informal environments can best support science learning. Many of the basic principles of learning operate in similar ways across settings. However, different settings and types of experiences offer different kinds of opportunities for learning. For example, a long-term program is likely to support different aspects of learning than a one-shot experience. Similarly, a highly structured exhibit may be more suited for particular kinds of learning outcomes than a purely exploratory one. Such differences mean that practitioners in informal science education need to think carefully about what can be reasonably accomplished in their own settings through the experiences they provide.
It is clear that a great deal of science learning—often unacknowledged—takes place outside school in informal environments. These environments include the home, while playing on the computer or watching television; designed spaces, such as science museums; and out-of-school-time programs or adult-oriented lectures or movies. Although these activities vary considerably and occur in different settings with different age groups, different structures, and different time scales, they all share five common commitments:
to engage participants in multiple ways, including physically, emotionally, and cognitively;
to encourage participants’ direct interactions with phenomena of the natural and designed world largely in learner-directed ways;