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Keywords:

  • biology;
  • informal science;
  • free-choice learning;
  • museum education;
  • lifelong learning

Abstract

Most people visit a science center in order to satisfy specific leisure-related needs; needs which may or may not actually include science learning. Falk proposed that an individual's identity-related motivations provide a useful lens through which to understand adult free-choice science learning in leisure settings. Over a 3-year period the authors collected in-depth data on a random sample of visitors to a large recently opened, hands-on, interactive science center; collecting information on why people visited, what they did within the science center, what they knew about the subject presented upon entering and exiting, and what each individual's long-term self-perceptions of their own learning was. Presented is a qualitative analysis of visitor interviews collected roughly 2 years after the initial visit. Although there was evidence for a range of science learning outcomes, outcomes did appear to be strongly influenced by visitor's entering identity-related motivations. However, the data also suggested that not only were the motivational goals of a science center visit important in determining outcomes, so too were the criteria by which visitors judged satisfaction of those goals; in particular whether goal satisfaction required external or merely internal validation. The implications for future informal science education research and practice are discussed. © 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 47:194–212, 2010