Designers of children’s science programs strive to encourage viewers to make use of multiple platforms to learn about science. After watching a science television show, they hope that viewers consider visiting a local science center or going online to learn more about a topic. As technology grows more sophisticated, other informal science venues, such as museums, are providing incentives for their visitors to take advantage of multiple platforms for learning. They are doing so by adding interactive features to their websites, offering visitors a chance to view collections online, view webcasts of special events, respond to blogs, watch videos on YouTube, and receive quick updates about museum events on Twitter.

Museums are approaching this new world in different ways and at different rates. The director of the Bay Area Discovery Museum, a small children’s museum in northern California, has started a blog for her museum and engages frequently with Yelp, a Web 2.0 parenting and recreation site. The Library of Congress has posted some images from its collection on Flickr, and the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science is experimenting with how to implement Web 2.0 strategies on a small scale.

Larger institutions are also in different stages of developing a strong online and interactive presence. The Smithsonian Institution is currently working on how it can become “Smithsonian 2.0.” Plans for this institution-wide initiative include digitizing all of the objects in its vast collection, using Facebook to build interest in the Smithsonian, and encouraging visitors to participate in Smithsonian planning by posting their ideas on one of the institution’s blogs. The Smithsonian is hoping that these steps will help change its culture so that the institution no longer sees itself as an “expert” that educates the public, but as a partner that willingly exchanges information with the public and discusses ideas.

The Exploratorium has evolved from posting blogs and exhibits online to building a virtual world that offers visitors a different kind of science experience. In a new world called Exploratorium in Second Life, guests are invited to develop an avatar (a representation of a person) and explore phenomena in ways that are not possible in real life. For example, as part of an exhibit on a solar eclipse, an avatar can literally crawl inside the eclipse’s umbra. Avatars also filled an online amphitheatre to share their thoughts about eclipses with their fellow avatars and an Exploratorium (avatar) staff member. And if a visitor wants to talk directly to someone participating in Second Life, tools ranging from instant messaging to online chats are available as well.

These innovations are still in their formative stages, so at this point, research on their impact on learning is not available. But the Exploratorium, the Smithsonian, and many other institutions plan to continue to build their online presence. As they do, the informal science community will develop a deeper understanding of how cutting across multiple platforms and making use of the newest technologies affect learning.

Many new ideas on how to expand learning opportunities across settings using new media are discussed at the annual conference, Museums and the Web. Its archive can be accessed at

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