What Does Informal STEM Education Research Tell Us?

As in all scientific endeavors, research-based knowledge is both tentative and cumulative. One study does not settle the case. The National Research Council in the United States published a series of reports that synthesized research-based evidence on learning in informal contexts. Particular strands of research can be found by accessing academic databases such as EBSCO and reading Literature Reviews found in the InformalScience.org collection.

Key takeaways from the most recent consensus report Identifying and Supporting Productive STEM Programs in Out of School Settings (NRC, 2015) found that productive out-of-school time programs:

  • Provide intellectually and socio-emotionally rich first-hand experiences with STEM
  • Leverage audience interests, experiences, and cultural resources
  • Make explicit connections across settings

Key Reports from The National Research Council

Access Peer Reviewed Research Literature

EBSCO is one of many academic databases that has a large number of peer-reviewed papers related to key ISE issues. Logged-in members of InformalScience.org can access EBSCO’s Education Research Complete database for free.

Browse AISL Research

Through CAISE, the community of AISL projects has many ways to communicate its research findings to one another. You can browse all research and reference materials here or explore the following subsets of resources:

Using ISE Research

Research aims to develop evidence and theory that builds knowledge.  Some research is more oriented towards informing practice, while some is more focused on theory development.  Weiss (1980) proposed four different ways in which research is used in practice:

  1. Strategic or Tactical. Research is used to advocate for or justify the efficacy of particular approaches.
  2. Conceptual. Research is used to inform thinking or strategies to teaching and learning.
  3. Instrumental. Research is used to directly implement particular approaches or decisions. 
  4. Imposed. Research is used to fulfill requirements imposed by an external party.

Much of the call for getting research into practice takes an instrumental view of research. Strategic uses of research are prevalent when people develop projects and proposals. Imposed uses are rare in the ISE field. See How can I integrate more research in my practice? to explore conceptual and other uses of research in your work.