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Family Learning in Free-Choice Educational Settings: A Review of the Literature for the National Park Service

Bourque, Colleen M.
This literature review is part of a National Park Service (NPS) initiative to improve lifelong learning in national parks. National parks are free-choice learning environments (also referred to as informal or non-formal settings), where individuals have significant control over their learning. Families make up a substantial portion of the NPS audience. This literature review aims to inform NPS practices by answering the following questions: What does research literature reveal about the nature of family learning, factors that influence family learning, and recommendations for improving family learning in free-choice learning environments? Families learn from their conversations and interactions with each other and their visits to free-choice settings are influenced by what Falk and Dierking (2000) categorized as Personal, Sociocultural, and Physical factors. Free-choice settings must address the Personal factors families bring to their visit including motivations, prior knowledge, identities, and diverse learning needs. Researchers who have studied the Sociocultural context of family learning urge free-choice learning institutions to encourage social interaction, help parents to facilitate their children's learning, and form reciprocal relationships and partnerships that encourage participation from underrepresented families. Finally, the Physical context of family visits can be improved by designing family-friendly exhibits, by implementing technology in family-friendly ways, and by creating exhibits that accommodate the various developmental levels of multiple users. Overall, free-choice learning settings must focus on providing enjoyable, collaborative opportunities for families to learn together.
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University of Wyoming. Libraries