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Informal Science Learning and Education: Definition … - informal education encyclopedia free

Informal Science Learning and Education: Definition …-informal education encyclopedia free

Informal Science Learning and Education: Definition and Goals
Anita Krishnamurthi, Afterschool Alliance
Leonie J. Rennie, Curtin University
Learning involves change in knowledge and understanding; capabilities and skills; ways of thinking - values,
feelings and attitudes; and/or ways of acting - behaviors. It is a lifelong process that occurs in many different
environments. Learning is often described as formal learning (such as that occurring in schools, colleges, and
universities) and informal learning (that occurs everywhere else). Although the learning process is the same,
there are qualitative differences between formal and informal learning contexts that hinge on the degree of
choice participants have to engage in learning activities and with whom, and whether or not there is a formal
curriculum and/or assessment process.
What is Informal Science Education?
Informal science education (ISE) is learning related to science that occurs in informal, out-of-school contexts.
These contexts vary from visiting science centers and engaging with the exhibits and programs offered there,
to watching a science program on TV, to researching a nature topic in the library or online, to participating in
structured afterschool programs, and so on.
More than a decade ago, and after considerable input from members, the Informal Science Education
Ad Hoc Committee of the Board of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST)
concluded that learning in out-of-school contexts means "learning that is self-motivated, voluntary, guided by
the learner's needs and interests, learning that is engaged in throughout his or her life" (Dierking et al., 2003,
p. 109). This implies that ISE learners are self-directed, pursuing things that they need to know and hence of
value to them, or things that are interesting and entertaining or amusing. Not all of these experiences result in
learning at a conscious level. Some of them may result in "ah-ha" moments when an understanding suddenly
falls into place, but many times these experiences will lay dormant until a reminding experience at a later time
results in conscious understanding. This is why learning about science (including learning about technology and
other cognate disciplines1) in informal contexts, ideally, is a continuous, life-long process.
Outside of school there are many opportunities to participate in science-related experiences that are
designed to provide science-based explanations to the people who engage with them. Science museums,
science centers, zoos, aquaria, and similar places are designed for people to pursue their interests and engage
in science-related activities. Other opportunities for science-related experiences are available in afterschool
programs. We define "afterschool" as programs that provide an array of safe, supervised, and structured
activities for children and youth that are intentionally designed to encourage learning and social development
outside of the typical school day. Programs generally operate during the hours immediately following school
dismissal; however, they also include activities that occur before school, on weekends, over school breaks, and
during the summer. They may be located at a school or off-site. Programs may be delivered through
partnerships between public and private entities and may employ credentialed teachers and/or qualified
community educators. They may be supported by parent fees or subsidized by federal, state, and local
governments, grants, or philanthropic gifts, or any combination of these resources. A common element across
these programs is an engaging, hands-on learning approach and less formal environment that aims to feel
different from school.
Afterschool programs in the United States present a significant potential to engage young people in
science learning. In the U.S. today, an estimated 8.4 million children participate in afterschool programs for
approximately 14.5 hours weekly (Afterschool Alliance, 2012). Children from populations traditionally under-
represented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are more likely to participate than
others - 24 percent of African-American, 21 percent of Hispanic and 16 percent of Native American children
attend afterschool programs, compared to the national average of 15 percent (Afterschool Alliance, 2009).
Girls attend afterschool programs in equal numbers to boys. The afterschool setting thus presents an
1 Science and its cognate disciplines, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, are often collectively referred to by the
acronym STEM.
opportunity to reach the very populations we need to include more in STEM fields through experiences that
supplement and complement the school day.
Although afterschool programs were originally created with the purpose of keeping children safe while
their parents worked or were otherwise unavailable, the goals of most programs have evolved to aim at
enriching experiences that contribute to the development of the whole child. The goals of those afterschool
programs providing structured learning activities include specific learning outcomes, and most recently, many
programs have begun to specifically target STEM learning outcomes.
Comparing Informal with Afterschool Science Learning Environments
All ISE experiences include an element of free choice, but some are more structured than others.
Structured ISE programs offered at museums, nature centers, zoos, and other locations may range in duration
from short 1- to 2-hour workshops to summer programs with daily sessions over a period of weeks or months.
Within the continuum of ISE experiences, afterschool programs tend to be highly structured, to be designed
specifically for children or youth, and to be more closely linked to school settings than other ISE experiences.
Afterschool programs provide more extended opportunities for a series of related science learning
activities, unlike other informal settings, such as a museum or science center, where learning experiences are
typically brief. In addition, afterschool programs offer much more structured learning activities, generally
supervised by a program leader, volunteer scientist, or mentor, in comparison to a museum or aquarium,
where visitors are free to decide how they spend their time. Finally, attendance in afterschool programs is not
always voluntary, as parents enroll their children in these programs and expect them to attend. However,
students may have choices about which activities or programs to participate in while attending afterschool
programs, allowing a measure of individual choice. This contrasts with learning activities at a museum or
science center, where visitors are entirely free to choose what to do, when, and with whom.

What are the differences between formal and informal education?formal and informal educationKnown form of educationTrained teachersOn a regular basisLeads to a formally recognized credentialInformalFlexibility in organization and methodsAcknowledging the importance of educationAfter-school programsCommunity based organizationsCan lead to greater confidence in formal classroomMore items...