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Project Descriptions

Brains On!: Investigating the Impact and Reach of Informal Audio STEM Learning

July 1, 2017 - June 30, 2019 | Media and Technology

As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds innovative resources for use in a variety of settings. The project will fill a major gap in knowledge regarding why children listen to science podcasts and what impact they have on their STEM learning. Brains On! is an existing podcast for children 6-12 years old that is produced by American Public Media. The podcasts are kid-driven. Kid listeners send in questions and suggest the show topics. Every episode is co-hosted by a different child, who interviews top scientists about their work, sees research done first hand and helps shape the overall arc of the episode. The project team collaborates with a wide variety of scientists to create programming that is both appealing to kids and has scientific merit. Although Brains On! has enjoyed more than 2.4 million downloads collectively of its 50-episode library little is known about why children are drawn to it, how they are using its content, and what the impacts might be for those who listen to the podcast. There has been no previous research to understand why children choose to listen, or what impact it has on their learning. This Pathways project would produce new episodes and collaborate with the Science Museum of Minnesota that would conduct research to fill this large gap in understanding aural learning through podcasts. The Brains On! project has the following goals to create strategic impact: 1) explore and begin to develop knowledge around what makes children's science podcasts, such as Brains On!, appealing and what role they can play in impacting children and their families' science curiosity, learning, and awareness of science careers, and 2) develop a theory of action for the Brains On! podcast that could also inform the development of similar kinds of children's science podcasts. A mixed-methods exploratory research study will be carried out to address these goals. The three overarching research questions are: Who is the audience for Brains On! and what are their motivations for listening to science podcasts? How are Brains On! listeners using the podcast and engaging with its content? What kinds of impacts does Brains On! have on its audiences? The research results, including the theory of action, from the Brains On! exploratory study will benefit the fields of informal science education and public media by beginning to fill a gap in the current knowledge-base around the potential for science children's podcasts to contribute to a wide range of informal science learning outcomes for children and families, as well provide insight into what features of children's science podcasts can lead to those outcomes. The study results may also encourage other public media and informal science education organizations to create their own science podcasts for children, increasing the reach and potential impact of this emerging STEM media resource.


Funding Program: AISL
Award Number: 1713479
Funding Amount: $300,000.00


  • Molly Bloom
    Principal Investigator
    Minnesota Public Radio
  • Sanden Totten
    Co-Principal Investigator
  • Lauren Dee
    Co-Principal Investigator
  • Marc Sanchez
    Co-Principal Investigator
  • 11794309 10153154279351443 7751787890874135798 o
    Co-Principal Investigator
    Science Museum of Minnesota
  • Resource Type: Projects
    Discipline: Education and learning science | General STEM
    Audience: Elementary School Children (6-10) | Middle School Children (11-13) | Families | Museum/ISE Professionals | Scientists | Evaluators | Learning Researchers
    Environment Type: Media and Technology | Broadcast Media

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