Conclusion 18: Ecological perspectives on informal environments can facilitate important insights about science learning experiences across venues.
The committee stresses the broad theoretical relevance of an ecological perspective on learning science in informal environments. An ecological learning perspective makes learners’ activity and learning the organizing element in educational research. Rather than focusing on discrete moments of learning (e.g., as in a short-term, pre-post assessment), an ecological perspective strives to understand learning across settings: exploring, for example, how learning experiences in one setting prepare learners to participate in other settings. Working from an ecology of learning perspective, educators and researchers focus on learning experiences as they occur in specific settings and cultural communities and on the continuity of a learner’s experiences across science learning environments—from classrooms to science centers to community sites.
The committee has developed a view of informal science education that takes learning seriously while maintaining a clear focus on personal engagement and enjoyment of science. In other words, we use the term “learning” in a broad sense that incorporates motivation and identity (see the six strands). Advancing the research and practice in ways that reflect this view of learning more fully will require careful consideration of goals, alignment of goals with learning experiences, and design of experiences that are informed by the values and interests of learners.
Our recommendations flow from the conclusions presented in this chapter and focus on improving both science learning experiences and research on learning science in informal environments. Given the nature of the evidence base, the recommendations for improving informal learning environments should be understood as promising ideas for further development that require additional validation through research and evaluation. These recommendations reflect practices that have been developed in some settings and may have been replicated; however, they have not been adopted widely.
These recommendations are relevant for a range of actors involved in science learning in informal settings. We consider three major groups: exhibit and program designers, front-line educators (e.g., scout leaders, club organizers, docents, parents and other care providers) who facilitate these experiences, and researchers and evaluators. These actors shape the educational experiences of learners in important ways collectively and individually. Through their collective actions they convey important messages about what