Science teachers urged to embrace informal learning


Both educators and education ministers often fail to recognise the value that learning outside the classroom can have in the science classroom, research has found.

Commissioned by the Wellcome Trust, the study says that opportunities for activities like visits to museums and science festivals are being missed.

It also finds that disadvantaged groups still do not have equal access to informal science learning opportunities.

The study states: “While schools help students develop formalised understanding of general principles, experiences outside the classroom are essential to give meaning, relevance and context to the ideas that schools offer. 

“They often provide a moment of emotional contact, where it is possible to have a hands-on experience, be challenged or provoked, or simply to enjoy the moment. For example, in school students will learn about the theory of evolution but a visit to the Natural History Museum will enable them to see how the natural world and the human race have evolved, bringing the theory and principles to life.”

The study sought to “characterise” the value of informal science learning to science education. It found that “practitioners believe passionately in the importance of science as part of our culture, but while some teachers also appreciate the enriching experiences it can provide, schools often fail to take advantage of the opportunities on offer beyond the classroom walls”.

Clare Matterson, director of medical humanities and engagement at the Wellcome Trust, said the report should spark a debate about how we can make it easier for schools to take advantage of informal science learning experiences, and in particular how gaps in provision can be addressed so that children from disadvantaged backgrounds don’t miss out. 

She added: “We hope that schools and the government will take steps to ensure that the value of any interaction with the informal sector is maximised.”

Sir John Holman, senior fellow for education at the Wellcome Trust, added: “We need greater collaboration between the informal and formal learning sectors, so that young people get a better all-round experience of science: interest sparked outside school needs to be sustained within it.”

Read the research at


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