Engaging the public in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is critical for a vibrant, democratic, and healthy society. Informal STEM learning (ISL) organizations play a vital role in stimulating public interest and engagement in STEM. The success of those experiences is dependent on the dedicated professionals who work within the ISL field.

The Informal STEM Learning Professional Competency Framework is a tool for individuals, organizations, and academic programs to understand, plan, and build professional capacity in the field of informal STEM learning.

  • Individuals can use the framework to assess their current competencies and to identify the competencies they want to develop.
  • Institutions can use the framework to plan professional development for staff or develop job descriptions.
  • Academic programs can use the Framework to review curriculum, support learning, or provide to students for guidance as they consider courses or pursue internships.

The impact of COVID-19 

Ideas and expectations about professions and about the process of becoming a professional are changing as the ways we learn and work evolve. The ISL Professional Competency Framework may help institutions effectively and efficiently align institutional needs with individuals and teams who have the appropriate mix of skills, knowledge, and competencies.

Throughout June 2020, the ISL Framework team hosted a series of virtual discussions with ASTC members, and heard that adaptable and transferrable skills such as critical thinking, decision making, active listening, and project management are particularly important for ISL professionals in the present moment.

The project team

The research team includes Lesley Markham at ASTC; Martin Storksdieck and Nancy Staus of Oregon State University’s STEM Research Center; Dennis Schatz, Institute of Learning Innovation (formerly the Pacific Science Center); Kris Morrissey, consultant (formerly the University of Washington’s Museology Graduate Program); Joe Heimlich of COSI’s Center for Research and Evaluation; Andy Aichele of COSI; and Cathlyn Stylinski of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. Margaret Glass and Michelle Kenner, formerly of ASTC, and Nancee Hunter, formerly with OSU, provided leadership and major contributions. For more information, contact Lesley.

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under grants 1514815, 1514884, 1514890, and 1515315. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

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