At the Exploratorium, we view learning broadly and believe there are different ways of learning and knowing: through direct experience with phenomena, through art, through dialogue, and through tinkering (exploring and testing ideas while building something). We work to change the way the world learns and to promote equal access to these powerful ways of learning about the world. We believe that research and evaluation are critical steps in understanding the nature of learning and in designing for learning innovation. Conducting research allows us to study learning broadly; evaluation enables us to consider how our work can be improved. Our studies include in-depth examinations of how exhibit design choices afford greater inclusion (e.g., Exhibit Designs for Girls’ Engagement) or more open-ended engagement (e.g., Active Prolonged Engagement), national studies of learning in after-school settings (e.g., Museums Afterschool: Principles, Data, and Design), inquiry-based exhibit strategies (e.g., Group Inquiry by Visitors at Exhibits), observational inquiry in biology through professional grade instrumentation (e.g., Microscope Imaging Station), longitudinal studies of students in our High School Explainer Program, and studies of how children can be supported to learn science through equity-oriented tinkering programs at the Boys & Girls Clubs in San Francisco. We disseminate our research through publications, workshops, and conferences in an effort to influence the design of learning environments worldwide.
As part of our advocacy for interactive STEM learning, we have a decades-long commitment to art as a way of knowing about the natural world, reflected in our extensive arts programming as well as a recent Art as a Way of Knowing conference. And our Tinkering Studio, which has a global reach through its professional networks and online resources, fosters learning through the process of making.
Our staff includes eighteen PhD or equivalent-level professionals who carry out fundamental and applied research.
Here are some of our programs and projects that advance ideas about learning.
- Visitor Research and Evaluation (VRE): The VRE group conducts research studies on learning in informal environments at the Exploratorium, as well as evaluation studies that inform and improve the exhibits and programs developed here. Hundreds of reports and publications produced by VRE are available online.
- Center for Informal Learning and Schools (CILS): CILS strengthens science education through research and leadership programs that expand conceptions of learning across formal and informal environments. Between 2002 and 2008, CILS supported the development of fourteen PhDs in the social sciences, thirteen postdoctoral fellows, sixteen natural science PhDs trained in informal learning and outreach, and more than four hundred leaders from informal science institutions.
Since 2008, CILS has received more than $10 million in federal and private foundation grants to lead a set of new projects and studies investigating how to strengthen connections between research and practice for both formal and informal educators, and for both researchers and practitioners. For example, we lead the federally funded Research+Practice Collaboratory, which works with universities and research agencies to develop new cultural models of the relationship between research and practice. And we developed the Relating Research to Practice website, which provides informal science educators with access to current peer-reviewed educational research studies.
- Art as a Way of Knowing: This conference, organized by the Exploratorium and sponsored by the National Science Foundation, took place on March 3 & 4, 2011, in San Francisco. It brought together an international group of artists, scientists, museum curators, writers, educators, and other cross-pollinators to explore and discuss the role of aesthetic inquiry in public interdisciplinary learning environments. It examined historical precedents, explored the nature of learning through the arts, and profiled compelling contemporary models for the arts in interdisciplinary contexts. This site contains videos and articles from the conference and readings related to the topic