week. If a visitor would rather just take a photo and save it on his or her phone, that, too, is possible. Through links to feeds on their phones, visitors also will be able to receive headlines of science and technology news posted at the Center. And over the next year or so, more exhibits will be accessible through cell phones.
“We’re continuing to think of ways to use cell phones to enhance the interactive experience,” explains Wayne LaBar, Vice President, Exhibitions and Featured Experiences. “Cell phones are proving to be a way to continue to engage people with exhibits at the Center even after they walk out the door.”
While there is incredible potential for enhancing science learning through opportunities to extend and connect experiences, it is important to realize that little is known about how people learn about a single content area across different informal settings and different media formats. Designing studies that examine this cumulative development of knowledge or skill is difficult. To illustrate this, consider a child reading a book about dinosaurs at age 3. She may like the book and ask to read it many times. Sensing her excitement for dinosaurs, her parents may take her to a museum to see an exhibit on her fourth birthday. Her parents may have also bought her several dinosaur models from a local toy store during that period. A television program on dinosaurs may air after the museum visit, providing more information. And, in the era of networked computing, the family may seek dinosaur information together on the Internet.
Tracking all of this activity and determining the individual and collective impact on the child’s emerging interest, knowledge, and skill are quite challenging. In fact, while it seems important to understand the cumulative effect of various loosely connected learning experiences and to identify the relative contribution of individual experiences, it may be even more important for science educators to understand and appreciate the interconnections and to take them into account when creating and delivering science learning experiences for their audiences. With an appreciation that people will experience many and varied opportunities to learn science over the course of a lifetime, educators can design individual experiences in a way that better supports the overall journey.2 For example, a museum exhibition about dinosaurs may be designed to optimize learning during the visit, with learning gains measured immediately after the experience. A different approach would be to design the exhibition to better connect to previous experiences and generate questions for further exploration at home. The measure of success of such an exhibition would be the quality of the questions generated and the nature of the next step visitors take to pursue those questions once they leave the museum.3