Free-Choice Family Learning: A Literature Review for the National Park Service
educational resourceposted on 01.01.2014, 00:00 by Colleen M. Bourque, Ana K. Houseal, Kate M. Welsh, Matthew Wenger
Learning in national parks often occurs in the context of family groups. Understanding the motivations, needs, and outcomes of family groups is critical to engaging a substantial portion of the National Park Service (NPS) audience. This literature review was prompted by an NPS initiative to improve lifelong learning. It explores research about the nature of family learning, factors that influence it, and recommendations for enhancing it. This review uses Falk and Dierking's (2000) Contextual Model of Learning as a framework for understanding personal, sociocultural, and physical factors that contribute to family learning outcomes in free-choice settings. Recommendations for improving family learning include: tapping into the motivations of family visits, helping families converse to construct meaning, and creating physical spaces for visitors of many ages to interact. The NPS can enhance visitors' connections to parks if park programs, exhibits, and interpretive media are effectively and deliberately designed to engage families. National parks and similar sites need to thoughtfully design education programs and exhibits to engage learners of all ages in meaningful, relevant, and memorable ways.