Science without Borders: How Informal Environments Help Learners Develop
Informal learning environments are a rapidly growing area of the learning sciences. There is a significant body of evidence to support informal learning, which shows its promise for both individuals and society. In this article, we will explore the benefits that come from learning science in informal environments, as well as some examples of how these learning settings work.
Informal learning is characterized by a non-formal learning environment that can be developed independently of the school setting. In these environments, learning takes place outside educational institutions and does not adhere to curricula or conventional learning goals (Singley & Anderson, 1989). This type of outdoor learning has been shown to have many benefits for students, both socially and academically. Informally educated individuals outperformed their traditionally educated peers on standardized tests in areas such as reading comprehension and language arts (Larson et al., 2001), which highlights the value of this formative style. Further research found that those who learn informally also tend to enjoy better mental health than those taking traditional classes (Switzer & McGraw, 2002). These studies show how learning in an unstructured learning environment can have positive effects on students.
What Is a Formal Environment?
Forms of informal learning include experiential activities such as fieldwork or lab work, where learners are exposed to a real-life application of scientific concepts being taught at school.
What Is Informal Environment?
Another study found that learning science in informal environments such as museums and zoos had a positive effect on learning, engagement, and attitude towards the subject. This type of learning is also referred to as “place-based” learning.
What Are Some Other Benefits of Learning Science in Informal Environments?
Other learning techniques that have been found to be effective to include STEM learning, where students construct their own understanding through science inquiry and design learning. These two approaches are more often implemented outside the classroom than inside it.
Is There Any Downside to Learning Science Outside The Classroom?
The downside is that these informal learning environments may not always be available or affordable for certain learners. However, there has also been some research conducted on how mobile technologies can help overcome this barrier by providing access to learning experiences anytime and anywhere.
How Can Mobile Technologies Help Improve Accessibility?
Mobile applications such as iNaturalist (which allows users to record and identify nature through pictures), Plantnet (which allows users to learn more about plants), or Biopogo ( which uses GPS data to track learning about biodiversity) can help learners engage with learning experiences on their own time. They also allow learners of all backgrounds, including those who are less privileged, access new learning content that they would not have had otherwise.
How Can Technology Be Used To Improve Learning?
Technology is helping learners everywhere gain access to learning opportunities in informal learning environments by providing engaging tools such as virtual tours for museum exhibits, so students do not miss out because the exhibit was too expensive or far away. Mobile devices are being used in schools across Africa where most schools lack electricity, so teachers can take advantage of technology along with their students. And learning apps are being developed, so learners can practice skills at any time, anywhere.
Theoretically, everyone should have equal access to learning opportunities, but that is not the case in many parts of the world where learning materials and resources are difficult for people to obtain due to financial constraints or other challenges faced by teachers and school systems, such as distance from classrooms or lack of training on how best to use educational technology tools effectively.