Learning science in informal environments: people, places and pursuits. A review by the US National Science Council
In January this year, the US saw the publication of the preview of an impressive review work on the practices and the studies concerning learning science outside schools and universities, i.e. what is referred to as informal education. The document, promoted by the National Science Council of scientific academies (National Academy of Science, National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine), is the result of the work by a committee comprising 14 specialists who collected, discussed and then organized hundreds of documents on pedagogical premises, places, practices and pursuits concerning scientific informal education. Nobody doubts that museums, magazines, after-school activities, science festivals and any other science communication offers have a positive impact on the people’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviours. But what do we really know about what actually happens in these experiences? What sense should be given to the word “learning” in these cases? Do the different communication tools or environments have also a different impact? What factors make them more or less effective? These are the main questions the document wants to answer, carefully evaluating the present state of the art.