STEM Learning Happens Everywhere, Adults Say

Research study shows the where and how of STEM learning

by Rupu GuptaJohn FraserJoanna Laursen BruckerKate FlinnerShelley J. Rank
Oct 4, 2019

Key Findings

STEM learning is not confined to the classroom. It happens regularly for adults, both in intentional learning activities like visits to a science center and in everyday experiences like going to the grocery store. Beyond where STEM learning happens, how that learning happens is just as important. Adult-described learning experiences involve content knowledge related to specific disciplines, scientific thinking and developing inquiry skills, and hands-on exploration. The study also showed there is a distinct social quality of STEM learning, where the experience is collaborative and often part of discussions with other people.

This study found that adults regularly encounter and engage in STEM learning activities, even if they don’t describe them as such. We can think of the gestalt of these experiences as a rich STEM learning ecology, where people fluidly dip into and out of STEM-focused exploration.

Let’s Put It to Work

The pervasiveness of STEM learning means that institutions that are not typically seen as STEM education centers can be considered part of the broader STEM learning ecology. The range of institutions includes zoos, aquariums, art museums, natural history museums, and more. In these contexts, educators, marketing professionals, communicators can lead discussions and create materials that guide people in thinking through how aspects of science, technology, engineering, and math are at play in the central topics that are unique to any given institution. For example, an educator could highlight an aquarium’s sophisticated life support systems to spark conversation about integrating technology and conservation.

About This Study

Full details of these findings have been published in Visitor Studies. The multi-site case studies were part of a larger research initiative called Why Zoos & Aquariums Matter 3: STEM Matters, funded by the National Science Foundation (awards #DRK-1612729 and #DRK-1612699). The research initiative and new findings are covered in detail on

Photo by André Hofmeister on Flickr

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