Skip to main content
Beginning this fall, a new team will be leading the Informal STEM Learning Equity Resource Center for the NSF AISL program. Read more here!

Types of Research

There are many different types of research conducted in ISE contexts. A set of Common Guidelines (a supplement was released in 2018) 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 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.

What Does Science Communication Research Look Like?

The aims and scope of science communication research are multidisciplinary and varied. One of the major journals in the field, Public Understanding of Science, says that science communication research seeks to understand communication about science using a range of epistemologies, methods, and levels of analysis and to integrate theory and practice. 

Videos of presentations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Math Colloquia on the Science of Science Communication in 2012, 2015, and 2017 provide a sense of the types of studies being conducted in a range of settings. 

In a 2019 article in Frontiers of Communication Kappel and Holmen posited two paradigms for science communication- the Dissemination Paradigm and the Public Participation Paradigm. They created a conceptual framework for science communication aims and examined whether various models of science communication achieved those aims.