Think Piece. Changing Thinking about Learning for a Changing World

  • Joe E. Heimlich Ohio State University, USA
  • Martin Storksdieck Institute for Learning Innovation, USA


As academics and evaluators working in the USA and Europe we are often asked to either assess the effectiveness of informal or free-choice environmental learning experiences, or to lend our expertise (coupled with solid visitor studies) to improve those experiences. What we encounter is an interesting conundrum: many environmental, conservation or preservation learning programmes or experiences start with goals or objectives that are extremely attractive to funders – changing visitors’ or participants’ understanding, attitudes or even behaviours in some profound fashion – and create a sense of importance and self-worth in those who devise these experiences. However, upon reflection and after a close analysis of the likely visitor experiences, many of these goals seem unrealistic, or seem to apply only for a small proportion of the target audience: those who are on the brink of changing. The reason for this apparent disconnect is manifold: the need to promise administrators, directors, agency heads, funders and donors ‘impacts’ and significant ‘outcomes’ leads to promises that are inappropriate or are difficult to meet; secondly, institutions operate under the banner of wanting to change – by themselves and through their own isolated efforts – those who are served by them; and mostly, those who devise and deliver these experiences may lack a deep understanding of the nature of out-of-school, informal or free-choice learning. We will address the latter issue in this article since understanding the nature of learning that occurs outside the formal sector is relatively new and, in our experience, not widely shared.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2411-5959
print ISSN: 1810-0333