ronments that juxtapose the learners’ understanding of a natural phenomenon with the formal disciplinary ideas that explain it. This often includes illustrating a surprising or typically hidden aspect of the phenomenon and prompting the learner to reflect on what it means. This approach is intended to help learners examine their own understanding and work toward revising it so that it more closely resembles current scientific understanding.
Another strategy that can aid flexible learning is providing multiple ways for learners to engage with concepts, practices, and phenomena in a particular setting. This strategy reflects the finding that knowledge presented in a variety of contexts is more likely to support flexible transfer of knowledge. For example, in museum settings there is evidence that interpretive materials, such as labels, signs, and audio guides, are more effective in increasing knowledge and understanding than simply interacting with an object or natural phenomenon.6 Similarly, in more extended experiences, such as those offered by programs, it can be beneficial to provide learners with multiple opportunities to learn about a topic, such as through background reading, presentations, discussions with experts, and direct investigations.
A third strategy identified by researchers and experienced designers is interactivity. In her book, Planning for People in Museum Exhibitions, Kathleen McLean defined interactivity as follows: “The visitor acts upon the exhibit, and the exhibit does something that acts upon the visitor.” Interactive experiences offer rich opportunities for provoking learners to recognize and reflect on their current ideas. They also allow learners to pursue the questions that might be generated as a result.
There are many different kinds of interactive experiences. Some involve touching or engaging with objects or live animals. Others involve turning knobs, pushing levers, spinning wheels, or doing other manipulations to create an event or see an answer. More extensive interaction might include carrying out a full-blown scientific investigation. In the case of media such as television, the learner may watch others carry out the interactive component, such as doing the steps in an investigation or engaging with an animal.
Interacting directly with materials appears to have particular value. Powerful learning takes place when an individual is able to find out for him- or herself that by correctly connecting wires to a battery, the bulb will light up, or by touching two different kinds of rocks, it is possible to “feel” the difference between them and classify them accordingly. Making interactive experiences accessible to a wide range of audiences is a distinctive feature of museums, science and nature centers, and other informal science venues.