Interior Design for informal science learning in community science centers

Presented by: Barbara Young, Dr. Hyun Joo Kwon

Informal science leaning is expected to impact interest in science and future innovation in the U.S. According to a report from the National Research Council (NRC) (2008), informal science learning in community science centers is one of the key factors, along with k-12 and higher education. Falk and Dierking (1992) proposed that the experience, and motivation to learn, in informal science environments is affected by personal contexts, social contexts, and the physical context. While frameworks exist that study the personal and social contexts on informal learning in these environments, fewer studies have focused on physical aspects of the environment aside from interactive exhibit design. Promoting informal science learning through exhibit design has received attention in the literature, but fewer studies give attention to the role of the physical environment, including organization of exhibits within the space (Macleod, 2005; Schwan et al., 2014; Wineman and Peponis, 2010). Building guidelines and standards for museum buildings exist, but the needs of small, community, interactive, centers for informal science learning do not fit the traditional model of museum space. Specifically, the central mission for interactive learning and play differentiates this type of museum experience. Given the current understanding of informal learning as a self-directed activity compelled by motivation, this poster explores specific elements of interior space which promote a variety of optimal conditions for informal science learning in community science centers. Six factors were compiled from the existing literature pertaining to personal and social context of informal science learning, exhibit design for informal science learning, and museum wayfinding and design: 1) organization and wayfinding, 2) visibility, 3) accessibility, 4) affordances, 5) light levels, and 6) acoustics. A case study for two science centers, similar in size, mission, and community amenities was developed using the six categories. Notes and sketch diagrams of the user’s interaction with the physical environment are collected with a time-based observation instrument. Visibility is analyzed using space syntax software. After the observation sessions, individual interviews are conducted with the science center staff and visitors. Interviews provide further insight or clarification on observed behavior. Staff and visitors are also asked to share opinions, attitudes, and perceptions related to the six identified categories. This poster will include a graphic analysis, using space syntax software for analysis of visibility in the spaces. Research notes from observations and interviews with users of the space will also be included. The poster will communicate considerations for promoting positive impacts, and mitigating negative impacts, of designed interior space on informal learning through the six categories. Results of this study can be used as best practices for the design of community science centers and other organizations with a primary mission to promote informal learning.


  • Falk, J.H. and Dierking, L.D. (1992). The Museum Experience. Washington, D.C.: Whalesback Books
  • Macleod, S. (2005). Reshaping museum space: Architecture, design, exhibitions. London: Routledge
  • National Research Council. (2009). Introduction. Chapter 1 in Committee on Learning Science in Informal Environments. Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits. P. Bell, B. Lewenstein, A.W. Shouse, and M.A. Feder (Eds). Center for Education, Division
  • Schwan, S., Grajal, A. and Lewalter, D. (2014). Understanding engagement in places of science experience: Science museums, science centers, zoos and aquariums. Educational Psychologist. 49(2), 70-85. DOI: 10.1080/00461520.2014.917588
  • Wineman, J. D. and Peponis, J. (2010). Constructing spatial meaning: Spatial affordances in museum design. Environment and Behavior. 42(1), 86-109.