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Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments
influenced by personal interests or (in later years) the school-related needs of their children.
Beginning in middle age and continuing through later adulthood, individuals are often motivated by events in their own lives or the lives of significant others to obtain health-related information.19 Health-related concerns draw many adults into a new domain of science learning. At the same time, with retirement, older adults have more time to devote to personal interests. Their science learning addresses long-standing scientific interests as well as new areas of interest.20
Adults differ from children in their interest in science and in the way they approach different learning opportunities. Most adults become interested in a science topic because it has immediate relevance to their lives. Adults tend not to be generalists in their pursuit of science learning; instead, they tend to become experts in specific domains related to everyday problems or out of personal interest. The most obvious example is in the area of health. If an adult or a person close to him or her is diagnosed with an illness, such as cancer, that individual often goes to the library to take out books on the subject or goes online to find out as much as possible.
In some cases, this research could even lead to involvement in a support group. For example, one program for people with multiple sclerosis is a social club that also offers information about the administration of medication and the management of side effects. Patients whose treatments require regular injections are given anatomy lessons. To bolster learning and ease anxiety that may be associated with feelings of isolation, groups of patients may convene to share stories about their illness and treatment.
Sometimes, too, the everyday activities of adults lead to involvement in science. Adults may serve as chaperones for a school field trip to a museum, where they are put into the role of facilitator and are expected to answer questions, lead group discussions, and point out important aspects of exhibits. Over the course of a typical day, adults may notice a new kind of bird in the yard and take a moment to look it up online. Or they may tune into Science Friday on National Public Radio while picking up their children at school. If a particular