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Science Learning+

Collaborative adventures in informal research and practice

Running time: 3 min 47 s

Learning can happen anywhere and at any time. Science Learning+ is an international initiative that aims to understand the power of informal learning experiences inside and outside of school.

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About Science Learning+

Science Learning+ is an international initiative established in partnership with the US-based National Science Foundation, the UK-based Economic and Social Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.

Science Learning+ aims to make a transformational step to improve the knowledge base and practice of informal science experiences, to better understand, strengthen and coordinate their vital role in science engagement and learning.

To support applicants to find new collaborators and engage with funded projects, we are using the community functionality of informalscience.org. The site is free to join and an opportunity to share ideas, meet new people and stay up-to-date with the scheme.

Aims of the scheme

1. To strengthen the research and knowledge base by:

  • investigating the value, outcomes, and impacts of informal STEM experiences, especially upon young people from birth to age 19
  • developing theoretical understandings of the processes which lead to these outcomes and impacts
  • developing better methodologies to measure the impacts of informal STEM experiences, especially upon learning and mediation of learning
  • building research capacity in informal STEM learning.

2. To bridge the practice and research gap by:

  • increasing partnerships, understanding, and influence between STEM education/learning researchers and practitioners
  • developing collaborations among institutions and individuals engaged in informal STEM experiences
  • documenting and communicating the outcomes of research-practice collaborations, such that they inform and affect practice.

3. To share knowledge and experience by:

  • encouraging the sharing of knowledge and skills relating to informal science learning - between researchers and practitioners, across different countries (particularly the US and UK/Republic of Ireland), and across different areas of research expertise.

Phases 1 and 2

Science Learning+ grants will be funded in two phases:

  • Phase 1: Planning Grants (2014/15). Short-term Planning Grants of up to £70 000/$115 000 to enable groups of people and organisations in the UK, the Republic of Ireland and/or the USA to meet with each other and develop ideas and strategies. Eleven projects were funded in Phase 1 (see ‘Funded Projects’ for details).
  • Phase 2: Partnership Grants (2016 onwards). Longer-term research programmes of approximately £1.5 million/$2.4 million for up to five years (possibly more for long-term longitudinal studies). While these might build on relationships established in Phase 1, successful funding in Phase 1 would not guarantee funding in Phase 2; likewise, Phase 2 would be open to new applicants (and any who were successful in Phase 1). We aim to fund approximately five Partnership Grants in Phase 2, with projects expected to start in late 2016.


As funders of informal science experiences and related research, the US National Science Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and the UK Economic and Social Research Council are seeking to better understand the processes underlying science learning and communication in informal settings, and to improve the status, environments and practice of informal science learning. We consider that informal science learning is an integral element of science engagement and is required both to nurture and facilitate the production of future scientists and to ensure that science is part of the cultural fabric of modern societies. Accordingly, we wish to build a stronger evidence base on good practice in informal science learning, its impact, and the design of learning environments.

The Wellcome Trust’s 2012 Review of Informal Science Learning noted that although there was no accepted definition of informal science learning, the term commonly refers to the learning that takes place during experiences, outside of the formal education system, that raise awareness of, interest in and engagement with science. These experiences can be supplied by a range of organisations and communities and can take place in a range of settings. Some are clearly intended for the purpose of learning, such as science centres, museums, after-school clubs and university outreach groups, while others have different focuses, such as theatres, music festivals, television programmes and video games. The providers may not necessarily recognise that they are delivering science learning, and the people who choose these experiences may do so for pleasure or out of interest.

There is some evidence to show that informal science experiences stimulate interest in science, as well as an appreciation of its social, cultural and historical context. These experiences can also build learners’ knowledge and skills and improve awareness and attainment, either through self-directed or mediated learning or through engagements that bring about a change in attitude towards science. However, we need a more robust evidence base to test and refine these beliefs and we need to establish procedures to identify and understand best practices in a wide range of informal science learning contexts. We also need to understand how informal and formal science learning can best align. Different academic fields could contribute to building this understanding – including researchers in science education, disciplinary sciences (such as mathematics, biologists, engineers or computer scientists), social sciences, psychology, learning sciences and cognitive science.

Organisations across the UK, the Republic of Ireland and the USA have different experiences and understandings of informal science learning practice and theory and could learn more from each other. We therefore need stronger networks, links and partnerships across the sector, between these three countries and, importantly, between communities of researchers and practitioners.

How to apply

Please read the solicitation before you apply. You can find it on the NSF Advancing Informal STEM Learning web page, as well as other details about Science Learning+.

For all projects, the lead partner from the UK/RoI must complete a Wellcome Trust/ESRC budget form to attach as a supplementary document to the proposal.

Deadlines and contacts

The deadline for submission of Partnership Grants will be 14 June 2016. There will be a single application with no preliminary stage.

We aim to notify Phase 2 applicants of success or otherwise within six months of the solicitation deadline.

Organisations based in the UK or RoI applicants, should contact us to discuss their applications at:

Science Learning+
Education & Learning
Wellcome Trust
Gibbs Building
215 Euston Road

T: +44(0)20 7611 8825
E: SLPlus@wellcome.ac.uk

For US applicants, please contact National Science Foundation program officers: Ellen McCallie ( emcalli@nsf.gov) or Catherine Eberbach ( ceberbac@nsf.gov).

Useful links

Applicants from the UK and RoI, in particular, should familiarise themselves with the following Wellcome Trust documents, policies and positions (please note the complete list of Wellcome’s Policies and Positions):

1. Wellcome Trust/ESRC budget form
2. For reference: Grant Conditions: UK and overseas [PDF 163KB]
3. For reference ESRC’s guidance on ‘How to maximise impact’
4. General information: Managing a grant
5. Policies and positions:


Applicants should ensure that they are familiar with the Eligibility guidelines as set out in the Programme’s solicitation. You can find the solicitation on the NSF Advancing Informal STEM Learning web page, as well as other details about Science Learning+.

Review and selection

The Programme’s solicitation includes details of the review and selection processes.

How to apply

Phase 1: Planning Grants

Details of projects funded by Phase 1 of Science Learning+ (PDF 436KB)

We funded the proposals that:

  • have a strong research hypothesis or design-based strategy informed by current evidence, with potential to be developed into a collaborative research proposal for Phase 2
  • identify the steps and actions to further refine and develop the research question and methods
  • involve collaborations between at least one researcher and at least one informal science practitioner
  • identify the other partners required to address the research question and the steps to bring them on board
  • demonstrate commitment to the overall aims of the programme and agree to advance these through the sharing of plans and initial findings and participation in workshops
  • are unique in terms of contribution from partners, ambition, credibility and potential to impact the informal science learning sector.

Projects funded by the Wellcome Trust and ESRC (note that these are working titles, not necessarily final project titles):

  • ‘Youth access and equity in informal science learning: developing a research and practice agenda’, led by Professor Louise Archer, King’s College London
  • ‘Science Live’, led by Professor John Durant, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • ‘Enhancing informal learning through citizen science’, led by Professor Richard Edwards, University of Stirling
  • ‘The contribution of natural history museums to science education’, led by Professor Michael Reiss, Institute of Education, London
  • ‘Developing and researching equity-focused across-settings models for integrated art, STEM and society approaches’, led by Lynn Scarff, Science Gallery, Dublin.

Projects funded by NSF:

  • ‘Exploring longitudinal research on out-of-school time experiences in STEM’, PI: Robert Tai, University of Virginia
  • ‘Investigating the long-term Impacts of informal science learning at zoos and aquariums’, PI: Brian Johnson, Wildlife Conservation Society, New York
  • ‘A collaboration to develop tools for mapping and assessing the impact of STEM experiences across different ecologies’, PI: Bradley Morris, Kent State University
  • ‘Move2Learn: Engaging preschool scientists through embodiment and technology’, PI: Judy Brown, Miami Museum of Science
  • ‘Planning a design-based implementation research agenda to investigate digital badges as transformative assessment in informal science learning’, PI: James Diamond, Education Development Center
  • ‘Affinity spaces for informal science learning: developing a research agenda’, PI: Richard Hudson, Twin Cities Public Television
Wellcome Trust, Gibbs Building, 215 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, UK T:+44 (0)20 7611 8888