Physical Space Content Efficacy

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Learning in a Physical Space vs. Digital or Solo Space

Learning in a physical space does carry advantages, but the research has yet to be conducted to compare its effectiveness with earning solo, such as reading alone, or on a digital platform, like videos and social media.


First, I searched for data which compared all three styles of learning against each other, or at least learning in physical spaces with one other style. For example, I searched through recently published academic articles on the topic. However, I found that this research has yet to be conducted. After looking through academic papers I also searched through online articles and news stories on the topic, but again, I have concluded that there is no data that compares these learning styles. However, I did find much research on each learning styles individually.

Below I have discussed the research I found on the individual learning styles. Unfortunately, I could not use this data to triangulate a conclusion, because each of the studies discussed use different methods and measures of impact and effectiveness. Therefore, there can be no calibration across studies.


To begin with, there is a large body of research which tells us that the physical space in which learning occurs impacts on the effectiveness of the learning. For example, this 2016 study tells us that environmental conditions have the ability to impact the teaching-learning process. Another recent study found that physical design of classrooms for 5 to 11 year old pupils impacts on their reading, writing, and math skills. This supports the idea that learning in a physical space, such as at a museum, zoo, or science center may carry advantages.

Due to the limitation of the criteria (studies published based on US sample in past 24 months) there were little studies available to discuss on this topic (as discussed above). For this reason I have included this 2017 study which looks at German school children. The study found that children who learned in an out-of-school setting (specifically a Reptilium, e.g. within a zoo) were more effective (in terms of knowledge) than those in the school-only program. They also found that children learning in the out-of-school setting felt greater levels of motivation in the form of free-choice, showing that this kind of learning supports self-determination.

This source tells us that there is little empirical evidence available at this date on the impact of field trips on standard measures of academic learning. Therefore, it is difficult to say for sure exactly what the advantages are of learning in a physical space, such as at a museum, zoo, or science center. However, this 2016 study did find "small positive effects of exposure to field trips on students’ science test scores and proficiency".

An article published in the Connected Science Learning Journal tells us that children must be exposed to science, technology, engineering, and math experiences early in life, in order to take advantage of their innate ability to pick up these skills at a young age. This was the rationale behind opening an on-site preschool at the Science Center of Iowa in Des Moines. The center uses the Project Approach, which means the museum’s exhibits act as a continuous field site visit, and point of enhancing the children's learning. The preschool boasts that 95% of its children reach kindergarten readiness targets in all learning domains. There is no national average for kindergarten readiness levels, however, this recently published article tells us that in Mississippi, 2 thirds of children entering kindergarten lacked preschool early literacy skills. This tells us that 95% is high.

After a thorough search I have found that there is no research specifically looking into the impact that solitary reading has on academic performance or indeed how it compares to learning in a physical space. After searching through academic reports, online articles and new reports I have come to the conclusion that this specific hypothesis has yet to be empirically tested. However, I did find much information that tells us that reading aloud, as a pair with a child, carries many advantages. For example, this article explains the importance of reading aloud with children until well after they have learned to read. In addition, this study tells us how it is reading aloud (so not alone) builds literacy skills better than talking with a child. There are no other recent studies on children learning solo.

Therefore, it can be concluded that there is no evidence to show that learning solo, such as reading alone, has advantages over learning in a physical space.

Again, as discussed above, there are no recent or previous studies directly comparing the effectiveness of learning from a digital platform against learning in a physical space. However, there have been studies to assess their effectiveness in general. This study concludes that "children's digital play offers teachers new opportunities to support, inform, reform, or transform the literacy with experiences we encourage children to participate." They summarize that digital play opens a window for literacy learning. So, we know that learning on a digital platform can also be effective, but we are not able to measure this against the effectiveness of learning in a physical space, as discussed above.


To sum up, I have found that there is no data which compares learning in a physical space, such as at a museum, zoo, or science center, to learning solo, such as reading alone, or on a digital platform, like videos and social media. I believe that this specific hypothesis has yet to be tested. I did find that there are a number of advantages, such that it improves effectiveness of learning, increases levels of motivation, and can increase levels of kindergarten readiness.

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