- In the past most research of family learning in informal science learning environments has included limited diversity among participants considering ethnic, cultural, and social economic status. The diversity seen in informal learning environments such as museums does not typically reflect that of the general population. Therefore, in order to foster more inclusive learning environments that address the values, needs, and learning styles of diverse audiences, particularly underserved populations such as Mexican-descent families, more studies of these audiences are necessary. In addition, among all family learning research in informal environments there is a need to assess long-term impacts in order to better understand the role of free choice learning institutions and programs in people's lives.
The primary purpose of this study is to document evidence for learning and teaching during and after participation in a bilingual aquarium sponsored family learning program. Using a sociocultural framework for understanding learning, moment-to-moment interactions between participants while engaging in the program were observed. In order to document long-term impacts, participants were interviewed about their free choice learning experiences subsequent to participation in the year-long program. Data gathered from both observations and interviews were coded and organized according to emergent themes that were ultimately used to construct claims about moment-to-moment and long-term learning and teaching behaviors of participants.
Findings indicate that both parents and children were active in learning during the program. In addition, parents were active in teaching their children, and they did so by specifically focusing on language and literacy tasks during formal learning activities. Notably, parents did not generally focus on teaching science, nor did they focus on teaching during informal learning activities. Findings also indicate that for both parents and children knowledge and experiences resurfaced in new contexts, including discussions with other family members, at school, and at work. Furthermore, after the program participants continued to learn by engaging in new free choice learning experiences, among them, visiting the aquarium's visitor center and reading relevant marine science materials. For the purposes of developing and implementing bilingual family learning programs, findings suggest the need to address cultural values and expectations pertaining to learning, with specific attention to literacy. Implications for research, including evidence for moment-to-moment and long-term learning, are discussed.