Everyday learning includes a range of experiences that may extend over a lifetime, such as family discussions, walks in the woods, personal hobbies, watching TV, reading books or magazines, surfing the Web, or helping out on the farm. These experiences are very much selected and shaped by the learners themselves and may vary greatly across families, communities, and cultures. People engaging in everyday learning may not be aware that they are learning. Instead, they simply see the activity as part of their daily lives—engaging in a hobby, looking up information on the Internet, enjoying a science documentary on TV, reading a fascinating book about the life of Darwin, playing games (in the backyard, at home, or on the computer), or having a meaningful conversation with friends.
Consequently, learners may not be explicitly asked to demonstrate competence in the same way they are when tested in school. Rather, demonstration of competence or signs of learning are embedded in the activity—for example, parents praising a child who explains how a tree “drinks” water or friends correcting and challenging each other when discussing which foods are the healthiest to eat. In informal settings, individuals may take on or are given more responsibility or more difficult tasks when it is clear that their competence has increased. For example, a child growing up in an agricultural society may start with feeding animals and cleaning stalls and gradually assume responsibility for tending animal wounds and monitoring the animals’ well-being. An amateur astronomer may take on increasingly more sophisticated outreach tasks, progressing from aiding at a public star party to delivering a lesson on astronomy to schoolchildren.
Designed environments include museums, science and environment centers, botanical gardens, zoos, planetariums, aquariums, visitor centers of all kinds, historic settings, and libraries. In these settings, artifacts, media, signage, and interpretation by staff or volunteers are primarily used to guide the learner’s experience. When the environments are structured by staff of the institutions, individual learners and groups of learners determine for themselves how they interact with them. The choice to attend a museum, aquarium, zoo, or other designed environment is made by the learner or, in the case of children and youth, often by an adult supervising the learner (e.g., a parent or teacher). Once in the setting, learners have