Learning In School and Out


Leona Schauble
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Purpose and Goals:

A good understanding of the design "tools" available (and how to use them) is essential for the design of effective learning environments. However, I do not know of a systematic consideration of the design tools available across a range of learning contexts, in and out of school. Similarly, we now have several theorists reminding us of the importance of "context" in learning, but we do not yet have anything like a theory of context. Accordingly, the purpose of this class is to grapple seriously with the challenge of identifying and contrasting key "ingredients" of a range of learning contexts, including the aspects of those contexts that one might deliberately vary to design an environment where learning is likely to occur. Although we are not likely to develop a robust theory of context over the course of one class, our overall purpose is to understand better the general shape that such a theory might take.

We will do this by engaging in consideration of the characteristics and properties of different kinds of learning environments. Our investigation will entail both direct experience and reading. We will start off with a very brief discussion of schools, but move quickly to "informal" learning environments. So that we can build together on a base of shared experiences, we will focus especially on two illustrative cases: museums and television. However, we will also be considering learning environments identified on the basis of the interests and knowledge of participating students.

As part of our common class experience, we will design two studies that can inform the design of informal learning environments: one within a children's museum and one with material produced by an educational television production company. Depending on the interests of the students in the class, we will carry out one or both of the studies and (if we succeed!) prepare them for publication under group authorship.


Expectations of Students:

This class will be conducted as a seminar. The instructor will not lecture or "deliver" material to the students. Instead, we will be working together -- sometimes as individuals, sometimes in small groups -- to make sense of a new area of investigation. This means all students will be expected to participate actively as co-investigators. Responsibility for making our class time productive will be shared by all of us. Students who do not wish to struggle with the ambiguity and responsibility that this approach requires may want to re-evaluate their commitment to the course.

I expect that students will have thoughtfully read the assigned readings before class begins. Students will occasionally be asked to visit a learning environment in the neighborhood (e.g. the Madison Children's Museum, a local karate school) and return with an analysis of the context. Students will participate in a class-conducted research project. Those students who are not able to or prefer not to make a trip out of town to work on data collection for the project will be asked to introduce the class to one additional informal learning environment.

































  • Gelman, R., Massey, C. M., & McManus, M. (1991). Characterizing supporting environments for cognitive development: Lessons from children in a museum. In L. Resnick & J. Levine (Eds.), Perspectives on socially shared cognition (pp. 226-256). Washington, DC: American Psychology Society.
  • Crowley, K., & Callanan, M. A. (in press). Describing and supporting collaborative scientific thinking in parent-child interactions. Journal of Museum Education, ?(?), ?
  • Schauble, L., & Bartlett, K. (1997). Constructing a science gallery for children and families: The role of research in an innovative design process. Science Education (Informal Science Education - Special Issue), 81(6), 781-793.

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