Evaluating Informal STEM Education: Issues and Challenges in Context
We define "informal STEM education" and explain some of the reasons its outcomes are so inherently challenging to evaluate, including the critical need for ecological validity and the fact that many informal learning experiences are low-visibility and opportunistic. We go on to highlight significant advances in the field, starting with the fundamental embracing of learning outcomes that go well beyond narrow measures of knowledge and skills, to include interest, engagement, and identity-building. Within that framework, we note the development of shared constructs and shared instruments emerging in multiple sectors of informal STEM education. We also highlight advances in unobtrusive instrumentation and powerful analytic techniques that make it possible to evaluate learners' unfolding experiences more directly than ever before. Finally, we point to underlying factors that support a growing and maturing professional community of informal STEM learning evaluators, and some of the "learning ecosystem" metaphors that frame their thinking.