Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Informal Science Education--Could this be the future?

"The seemingly endless debate about how to improve US science education seems to make the tacit assumption that learning happens only in the classroom" (p. 813) So begins an interesting editorial in Nature, April 2010, titled, "Learning in the Wild" that suggests that we need to be paying much more attention to informal science learning. The authors go on to write,
"researchers who study learning are increasingly questioning this assumption. Their evidence strongly suggests that most of what the general public knows about science is picked up outside school, through things such as television programmes, websites, magazine articles, visits to zoos and museums — and even through hobbies such as gardening and birdwatching" (p. 813).
This goes right to the heart of the idea that we need to build alot of science microlearning opportunities that engage people's interests and lead them into deeper more complex learning activities. In the editorial the author's note,
"This process of 'informal science education' is patchy, ad hoc and at the mercy of individual whim, all of which makes it much more difficult to measure than formal instruction. But it is also pervasive, cumulative and often much more effective at getting people excited about science — and an individual's realization that he or she can work things out unaided promotes a profoundly motivating sense of empowerment" (p. 814).
I am in agreement with this statement:
"education authorities need to recognize the importance of informal science education and do more to promote it — if only as a way to motivate students in the classroom" (p. 814).
Rather than thinking of science education as either formal or informal, we need to build learning systems that move easily from the informal playful educational experiences to the deeper, richer experiences. This will both foster better learning, but it will be much more fun.

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