Much of the learning adults do today happens informally online. However, little research currently describes what, how, and how well this learning occurs. Informal learning is a highly personal process with a myriad of variables, so it is especially difficult to study. I will take a primarily ethnographic approach creating “thick” data with cultural context, drawing from netnographic, autoethnographic, and quantitative ethnographic approaches. However, I will not shy away from other methods when the question requires them.

We are living in a time when many Americans believe alternative facts, described by others as falsehoods. At the same time, we are facing critical environmental and social issues. Emerging data suggests reaching people in informal settings is the best way to increase public understanding of science. Therefore, knowing how to leverage the online ecosystem of information and learning will help scientists and outreach organizations across a variety of fields amplify their impacts for the greater good.

My initial work includes a look at how people learn informally online and how organizations design for informal online learning, including the following:

I intend to continue studying how people learn informally online, and how organizations can best design for informal online learning. I will also begin to more specifically investigate how outcomes of tacit and intentional informal online learning can be credibly and feasibly evaluated. I believe this study of evaluation methods is critical in order to elevate the field and improve the funding opportunities for informal online outreach education.