SL+ Equity in Informal Science Learning

Outcomes and learning from Science Learning + (SL+), an international partnership between the National Science Foundation, Wellcome Trust and the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) that aimed to create and foster research-practice partnerships in informal science learning.

updated on 24 Jan 2024
6 minutes read

What is informal science learning and why is it important?

Informal science learning (ISL) experiences – like visiting museums, meeting scientists, watching YouTube videos and playing games – offer huge potential for young people to engage with and learn about science in a way that works for them.

All young people deserve to be inspired by science and to see its relevance to them. Young people spend up to 80% of their time outside of school and therefore they it is important that they have many opportunities to learn about science in informal settings. 

Wellcome research shows that informal science learning may be particularly beneficial for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are more likely to find science subjects challenging and unengaging at school. 

YESTEM- Equitable STEM engagement for minoritised youth


About Science Learning +

The resources on this page were generated through a grant programme entitled Science Learning + (SL+). This was an international partnership between the National Science Foundation, Wellcome Trust and the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). 

The initiative aimed to create and foster research-practice partnerships in informal science learning (ISL), including strengthening the research and knowledge base, bridging the gap between practice and research, and sharing knowledge and experience in informal STEM experiences. It also sought to support practice-based research in several priority areas such as engagement, skills development; equity, diversity, and access to informal science learning settings.  


Three overarching themes connected the projects and drove wider discussion:

  • Involving children and young people in ISL programming, practice and research 
  • Supporting equity within and through collaborative and interdisciplinary research
  • Working well across boundaries and borders (geographical, disciplinary, research and practice)

Five projects were funded in 2017, spanning a range of topics and including collaborations between organisations in the US with others in the UK or Republic of Ireland. 

The NCCPE along with the British Science Association (BSA) and NatCen Social Research (NatCen) supported the programme to draw together lessons learnt and maximise the impact of learning and outputs. This included engaging with both established and new stakeholders, including practitioners, producers, funders and decision-makers, to advocate for more support, funding and investment in informal science learning. 

The SL+ Projects


YESTEM- Equitable STEM engagement for minoritised youth

The YESTEM project focused on identifying, understanding and supporting equitable practice in ISL. 

Take the next steps in A range of tools and resources are available for free on the YESTEM website. This includes an explanatory animation and video overview, a series of short films sharing how the YESTEM tools have supported ISL practitioners, and a free online professional development course to train ISL practitioners to use the Equity Compass. 


Move2Learn’s was a collaboration between University of Edinburgh, Glasgow Science Centre, University College London, Illinois University, Frost Science and Children’s Museum Indianapolis. This research, helped reveal how gesture in adults, and children offers an invaluable window into how we understand and communicate science ideas.

This included a video analysis of over 200 young children (3-6 years old) as well as parents and practitioners interacting with and talking about science exhibits.

The research was informed by, and contributes to, emerging theoretical claims that the way we think is embodied, meaning it is intrinsically linked to the way we sense and move in the world.

Have you ever wondered why you gesture when explaining science ideas to children? Find out more on the Move2Learn website.

STEM Teens: Youth participation in research

This UK/US collaboration recruited under-represented young people as enablers, doing science engagement with visitors in informal science learning (ISL) settings, such as  science and discovery centres or museums. Led by the University of Edinburgh the collaboration involved other UK and US based universities and informal science learning organisations (Queen Mary University of London, University of Cambridge, NC State University, University of South Carolina, EdVenture Children's Museum,Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, Centre of the Cell, thinktank Birmingham Science Museum, Virginia Aquarium , Florence Nightingale Museum)

A longitudinal study of the teenagers involved found that despite a high interest in STEM, not all young enablers were interested in STEM careers. However, interest was higher if they had friends also interested in STEM; a sense of social competency and self-efficacy in their role as an enabler; and if they felt a sense of belonging to an inclusive science centre.

Project publications:

Creativity & Equity in STEM Learning 

Creativity & Equity in STEM Learning was an international project that aimed to explore informal science learning (ISL) programmes that operate at the intersection of the arts, sciences, technology and more. It examined the long-term impacts of these programmes for young people from communities historically underrepresented in STEM fields.
The programme brought practitioner organisations and University research teams together in partnerships at 5 different practice sites in the UK, Ireland, and USA: Science Gallery Dublin (Ireland), Guerrilla Science (UK/USA), WAC College of Arts (UK), Listo America Club House (USA) , 5-YR Media (USA). 

The research demonstrated that these ‘transdisciplinary learning environments’ allowed young people to challenge historic and systemic injustices and to build new understandings of how science was relevant to their lives, identities and cultures. These environments supported young people to create their own meaningful learning pathways.


‘LEARN CitSci’ explored how citizen science or community science projects can be deliberately designed to support young people to develop their sense of  ‘agency’ - the capacity of individuals to act autonomously and to make their own free choices. The project was a partnership of three natural history museums (Natural History Museum London, California Academy of Sciences and Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County), the University of Oxford who run the Zooniverse citizen science platform, and learning researchers at two universities (UC Davis and Open University). Over five-years, the project studied the outcomes for young people who take part in Community and Citizen Science projects, both outdoors and online. 

They identified some key design features that may enhance the development of science learning, identity and agency outcomes:

  • explicit and consistent framing of the activity as a collective scientific endeavour, that positions young people as contributors to scientific work
  • allowing young people to use and develop mastery of scientific tools
  • providing additional support for young people to personally submit environmental data to research projects themselves (rather than group leaders doing this)
  • supporting young people to participate multiple times in a project, enabling them to try out different activities and roles, and gain confidence and skills over time
  • supporting teamwork, social interactions, and division of labour amongst a group of young people

The project developed the Enhancing youth learning through Community and Citizen Science: A guide for practitioners to share findings with practitioners. 

Insights into the research-practice partnership were discussed a series of Soundcloud podcasts Podcasts on SoundCloud
Links to research papers and accompanying easy-read summaries, as well as other project information can be found on our legacy webpages.