What Does Informal STEM Education Research Look Like?

There are many different types of research conducted in ISE contexts. A set of Common Guidelines from the US National Science Foundation and Department of Education’s Institute of Educational Sciences identified six different types of research:

  • Foundational Studies are studies of core theoretical ideas that may not have immediate uses in practice.
  • Exploratory Research consists of theoretically guided studies that investigate promising ideas or strategies in practice.
  • Design and Development Research includes studies that build theory involving the design, implementation, and iterative revision of STEM learning innovations.
  • Efficacy Studies are studies that test the efficacy of a promising strategy or resource, generally under controlled circumstances and often by contrasting treatment and control or comparison groups.
  • Effectiveness Studies are studies that examine promising innovations under typical circumstances rather than ideal or highly controlled circumstances.
  • Scale-Up Studies are studies that investigate established practices in expanded settings.

Additionally, many ISE organizations conduct marketing research and landscape studies to better understand the contexts and audience needs for their work. These studies map current practices or features that are relevant to informal STEM learning.  For example, a 2014 study conducted by Feinstein and Meshoulam explores issues of equity in museums and science centers.

An emerging approach to research, called Design-Based Implementation Research (DBIR), works at the intersection of design research, efficacy, and evaluation to design, test, and revise local innovations in ways that can scale in practice and also advance theory.

The methods of research relate to the questions being asked. Quantitative and qualitative methods, and mixed methods, may be appropriate in any of the research types described above. For example, efficacy studies might combine observations, interviews, focus groups, and quantitative analysis of survey data or census counts.

Spotlight on Current AISL Studies

The News & Views section of InformalScience.org includes Spotlights on current AISL studies. These spotlights are intended to explore the project development process, projects’ research questions, and lessons learned from projects’ experiences.