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The challenge of just-in-time learning

On October 3, featured speaker Jon D. Miller gave a presentation entitled “The Challenge of Just-In-Time Science Learning for Museums” at the ASTC Annual Conference. Miller, director of the International Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy at Michigan State University, East Lansing, has pioneered the definition and measurement of scientific literacy and has researched this topic in more than 40 countries.


Miller argues that, in recent years, the basic model of adult science learning has moved from a “warehouse” model, where individuals stockpile information to be used later, to a “just-in-time” model, where information is sought out when it is needed. Museum educators, he said, need to understand the consequences of that transformation and adapt accordingly. “I’m a great fan of museums and hate to see them go the way of department stores downtown [which are disappearing],” Miller said, “but the old way will take them there.”

Miller had several recommendations for museums to remain viable in the informal science education learning market and become a more vital part of the system:

  • Accept the emergence of a just-in-time model of science information acquisition.
  • Embrace the Internet as a major tool for science learning and become a place people go to for information even when the building is closed. (For example, be a resource for the school student scrambling to finish a project at 10 p.m.).
  • Measure success by the number of people helped rather than by the number of tickets sold. The current revenue model is not viable—it is essential to think about new models of financing informal science learning.
  • Remember that you are part of a smorgasbord of informal science learning resources and build viable partnerships with other providers.
  • Recognize and appreciate your assets. Science museums have a high level of public trust in accuracy and honesty.

Jon Miller is director of the Longitudinal Study of American Youth (LSAY), which began following a U.S. national sample of nearly 6,000 7th- and 10th-grade public school students in 1987. The subjects of the study are now between 34 and 38 years old. LSAY looked at students’ educational and career plans and how they related to their math and science achievement, home backgrounds, attitudes and expectations, and activities. The 2009 LSAY study focused specifically on how and where today’s young adults obtain science information when they need it—including from museums, print and broadcast media, and electronic resources.