Learning Science in Informal Environments People, Places, and Pursuits (2009)
Science is shaping people’s lives in fundamental ways. Individuals, groups, and nations increasingly seek to bolster scientific capacity in the hope of promoting social, material, and personal well-being. Efforts to enhance scientific capacity typically target schools and focus on such strategies as improving science curriculum and teacher training and strengthening the science pipeline. What is often overlooked or underestimated is the potential for science learning in nonschool settings, where people actually spend the majority of their time. Beyond the schoolhouse door, opportunities for science learning abound. Each year, tens of millions of Americans, young and old, explore and learn about science by visiting informal learning institutions, participating in programs, and using media to pursue their interests. Thousands of organizations dedicate themselves to developing, documenting, and improving science learning in informal environments for learners of all ages and backgrounds. They include informal learning and community-based organizations, libraries, schools, think tanks, institutions of higher education, government agencies, private companies, and philanthropic foundations. Informal environments include a broad array of settings, such as family discussions at home, visits to museums, nature centers, or other designed settings, and everyday activities like gardening, as well as recreational activities like hiking and fishing, and participation in clubs. Virtually all people of all ages and backgrounds engage in activities that can support science learning in the course of daily life.