Informal Learning Environments Research: SIG 49
Informal Learning Environments Research: SIG 49
SIG Purpose

“I will get my education - if it is in home, school, or any place.”

~ Malala Yousafzai


Mission: The purposes of the SIG are a) to further research in informal learning environments (such as science centers, museums, aquariums, zoos, nature centers, libraries, and other places) and b) to promote a community of practice interested in establishing and maintaining informal learning environments conducive to a better understanding of teaching and learning.

Informal learning is closely tied to all aspects of our life, from everyday pleasure and well-being to career development and life-long learning


Formal and informal can mean many things to many people. For some, informal learning may mean learning that happens outside of school. For others, the term “informal” could refer to the amount of structure in a learning program. We take a broad view of the field and leave it up to the researcher to decide whether their work is in an informal environment, as long as they make it clear as to why they feel this particular research is related to our mission and advancing the field.

As an illustration of the types of research, some session titles and abstracts from recent years are at the bottom of this page.

At its best, informal learning includes everyone. But we recognize that historically that has not been the case. In recognition of that, we encourage research that asks questions about and challenges historical norms of education and research in our field.


Informal learning environments are very diverse, and the constellation of cognitive, social, and emotional dimensions of human experience they incorporate requires diverse frameworks and approaches to research. While all the standard qualitative, quantitative and mixed-method methodologies are common in our field, by necessity informal environments often lend themselves to new and novel approaches. We encourage research exploring them.



ILER Reception Group Photo from AERA 2023 (Chicago)


Our members identify as researchers, practitioners, educators and many other professions. They work in science centers, museums, aquariums, zoos, nature centers, academic institutions, afterschool programs, government and NGOs, community centers, and many other settings (including independently). If you consider your work to be about informal learning, you are welcome.


 We have a Slack workspace, Facebook page, and Twitter feed.

A sample of recent sessions accepted or created by the ILER SIG

Using Storytelling as an Approach to Researching, Teaching, and Learning About Complex Community-Based Socioscientific Problems - Symposium

Resolving global problems (e.g., climate change) requires decision-makers who can see problems through an intersection of disciplines and perspectives and identify the root causes of disparate and inequitable outcomes between groups. As such, there is an urgent need to develop systems-thinking skills in learners so that they can address the interdisciplinarity and intersectionality fundamental to complex socio-scientific challenges when acting as decision-makers. This session highlights how storytelling can be used as a pedagogical approach to building systems-thinking and collaboration skills in informal learning environments. The research presented includes examples of how podcasts, graphic novels, and theatre can be used as storytelling approaches. This interactive session brings together scholars who work in community-based partnerships around North America, India, and Bhutan.

When Nothing Is Something: Null Results in Informal Learning Research - Structured poster session

By their nature, informal learning environments are often noisier (both literally and figuratively) than laboratory or classroom environments. And researchers have less control over the research process itself. The main outcome of this session will be a glance at the wide manifestations null results can take in our field and how to design for, interpret and communicate them. It includes a mix of review/theoretical discussions meant to guide the future and empirical results meant to provide real-world examples.

Revisiting the “Pipeline” in STEM Pathways Research: Alternatives that Reflect Systemic, Cultural and Contextual Features - Working group roundtable session

Drawing upon AERA’s 2023 call for research proposals that “revisit consequential research with a focus upon equity, justice and opportunity” and “engage dialogically with communities” this working group roundtable brings together researchers studying the impacts of out-of-school programs for youth who are exploring alternatives to the ‘pipeline’ conception which has traditionally informed research and policy on STEM pathways. Critics of the ‘pipeline’ conception in STEM contend that the metaphor does not capture cultural or contextual features of marginalized students and groups, nor the systemic barriers to retention and full participation throughout different stages of education and career. This session examines research working with alternatives to the pipeline conception that represent inclusive, youth-centered means of understanding long-term participation in STEM.

Innovation in Informal Learning Environments for Diverse Communities - Paper session

The papers in this session cover a range of pedagogical practices and innovation in informal learning environments, including issues of thriving for youth with learning disabilities, learner engagement with two interactives in a museum exhibit, museum educators’ practices for supporting the failure-learning process, and youth’s co-construction of knowledge at a science museum exhibit. This session will be of interest to the Informal Learning Environment Research (ILER) community as they inform research-informed approaches that support learning and engagement of diverse learning communities in informal learning environments.

Informal STEM Learning: Exploration, Interest, and Performance - Paper session

This virtual paper session presents three studies related to informal STEM learning. With different methodological approaches, all three studies demonstrate the role of informal learning environments (either family time, out-of-school experience, or game-based workshop) in supporting interest, performance, and career choices in STEM.

Informal Education Using Online and Hybrid Tools - Roundtable session

The development of technology and the recent move to the online world due to the pandemic have brought informal educational programs into online and hybrid settings. This roundtable session of four papers presents how informal education in STEM, computer science, and citizen science happened in online and hybrid environments.