The Importance of Informal Learning Experiences
The Digital Media Academy (DiMA) is a member of the 21st Century Community Learning Center in the Gadsden Independent School District and offers learning experiences in an after school setting. This informal learning experience approach has been proven through research to be especially successful for low-income and minority populations who are underrepresented in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields and offers an alternative to the traditional way of learning (Center for Informal learning and Schools, 2005). For example, classroom science continues to meet only the needs of a small number of students, that includes very few of the low-income, female or minority students (Atwater, Wiggins,& Gardner, 1995, Meece, J & Jones, M., 1995). Since DiMA has a population of 95% Hispanic with many second language learners, we are offering an experience that will affect the future STEM workforce as DiMA students gain confidence and progress educationally.
The importance of the informal science experience setting is being noticed, as the traditional way of learning (classroom, memorization, isolation) is made obsolete by the saturation of technology into everyone’s daily lives, as well as our knowledge of how our brains construct knowledge ( National Academy of Sciences, 2010; National Research Council, 2009; Yager & Falk, 2008). If educators would acknowledge and address these phenomena, our classrooms would be more relevant and exciting for the students of this century. Both teachers and learners are caught in the middle of this technological and educational research outburst, but still they are trapped in the traditional school culture. As stated from a literature review by Sefton-Green, 2004: “Teachers and other educators just simply need to know more about children’s experiences and be confident to interpret and use the learning that goes on outside the classroom…we need a culture that can draw on a wider model of learning than that allowed for at present. Secondly we need to work within various curriculum locations to develop links with out of school learning experiences…” (Sefton-Green, 2004, p.32).
Informal learning experiences are essential for all children and DiMA is providing an enriched environment that combines STEM content with the use of technological tools to communicate and prepare for the 21st century. These DiMA students are becoming problem solvers, innovators, inventors, logical thinkers, self reliant, as well as technologically literate in an engaging after school program!
- Atwater, Wiggins & Gardner. (1995). A study of urban middle school students with high and low
attitudes toward science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 32 (6), 665-677.
Center for Informal Learning and Schools. (2005). Informal Science Institutions Landscape
- Meece, J. & Jones, M. (1995). Gender differences in motivation and strategy use in science: Are
girls rote learners? Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 33 (4), 393-406.
- National Academy of Sciences. (2010). Rising above the gathering storm revisited: Category 5.
- National Research Council. (2009). Learning science in informal environments.
Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
- Sefton-Green, J (2004). Literature Review in Informal Learning with Technology Outside
School; A Report for NESTA Futurelab (no. 7).
- Yager, R & Falk, J. (eds.) (2008). Exemplary Science in Informal Education Settings. Arlington,
VA: National Science Teachers Association.