A report by the National Research Council concludes that experiences in informal settings can significantly improve science learning.
The report, written by a committee co-chaired by Philip Bell and Bruce V. Lewenstein outlines six “strands” of science learning that can happen in informal settings, and these strands could help refine evaluations of how well people are learning in these environments. For example, learners can experience excitement and motivation to learn about phenomena in the natural and physical world. They can come to understand and use concepts and facts related to science. They can learn how scientists actually conduct their work using specialized tools and equipment. And they can develop an identity as someone who knows about, uses, and sometimes contributes to science.
Some of the conclusions are:
– There is strong evidence that educational television can help people learn about science, although few studies have been done on the effects of other media, including digital media, video games, and radio.
– There is also some evidence that participation in informal science learning — for example, volunteering in the collection of scientific data — can promote informed civic engagement on science-related issues such as local environmental concerns, says the report.
– Experiences in informal settings can significantly improve science learning outcomes for individuals from groups which are historically underrepresented in science, such as women and minorities. Evaluations of museum-based and after-school programs suggest that these programs may also support academic gains for children and youth in these groups.
The report offers recommendations for people who design programs in these settings, such as the creators of museum exhibits. The programs and environments should be interactive and designed with specific learning goals in mind. They should provide multiple ways for learners to engage with concepts within a single setting. And they should prompt visitors to interpret what they have learned in light of their prior experiences and interests.