Museum Learning Research

The Franklin Institute was one of the first science centers in the nation to establish a Department of Research and Evaluation and has become known in the museum field as a leader in museum-based learning research. For nearly four decades the department has been studying how people learn science in out-of-school environments, with a particular focus on partnerships between museums and community agencies.  The publications posted here are products of this effort.

The Philadelphia Informal Science Education Collaborative (PISEC) consists of four local museums: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, The Center for Aquatic Sciences, The Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Zoo.  These museums and their community partner agencies have been working together for more than twenty years to deliver programs to underserved families in the Philadelphia-Camden area.

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

  • Family Learning


    The Family Science Learning Research Project was a research and development effort funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and The Pew Charitable Trusts to study how families learn science in informal settings. It led to the development of a new model for exhibit design based on seven characteristics of family-friendly exhibits. Family Learning in Museums: the PISEC Perspective tests exhibit components that embody these characteristics, and measures their impact.The publication is available through the Association of Science-Technology Centers.

    Borun, Minda et. al. Family Learning in Museums: The PISEC Perspective, Association of Science-Technology Centers, Washington DC, 1998.

  • WorkingTogether


    In Community Connections, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, The PISEC group partnered with local organizations that had strong community ties, but little or no science-related programming. This outreach program was designed to diversify museum audiences and introduce families to science museums and family science learning. Community Connections reached 17,000 people through community agencies serving African American and Latino Families. “Working Together…” is a guide to building strong community partnerships.

    Wagner, K.; Borun, M.; Ferraro, J.; Johnson, J. Working Together: Museums and Community Partners, Philadelphia-Camden Informal Science Learning Collaborative (PISEC)/Philadelphia Zoo, Philadelphia, PA 2000.


    FEST, funded by NSF and the William Penn Foundation, advanced community-based science programming and outreach. Each PISEC institution partnered with two or more community-based organizations, whose members were invited to take part in programs and events tailored to encourage whole-family science learning. FEST served over 18,000 people from 12 community partner agencies; most were African American, Latino, and Asian families.

  • In Their Own Voices


    CASE, funded by NSF and Mellon Mid-Atlantic Trust, involved diverse local communities in science activities. The program trained 144 science ambassadors from community sites who presented hands-on science workshops in the languages spoken by their member families. CASE served more than 15,000 people over five years, through peer-presented family learning opportunities and museum experiences.

    "In Their Own Voices" tells the stories of thirteen individuals who became active participants in PISEC programs. These frequent participants were not linked by a simple demographic category like mother's education or science background. They are very different from one another, but all are creative, intelligent, resourceful people who saw what the PISEC programs could offer their families.

    Borun, M., B.M. Kelly, L.J. Rudy. In Their Own Voices: Museums and Communities Changing Lives, The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, PA. 2011.

  • Museum Community Partnerships


    In 2008, the PISEC group conducted the NSF-funded Bridges Conference, a national conference on family-focused museum/community partnership programs. Bridges offered an opportunity for sixty-five museum and community pairs to meet others engaged in similar efforts, to share triumphs and tragedies, and to build an ongoing community of practice. The Bridges website and manual “Museum/Community Partnerships”, explore how museums and other learning institutions and community organizations can work together towards a shared vision for engaging underserved families with STEM enrichment activities.

    Borun, M., K. Garelik, B. M. Kelly. Museum/Community Partnerships: Lessons Learned from the Bridges Conference, The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, PA, 2011.


    Communities of Learning for Urban Environments and Science (CLUES) builds on PISEC’s extensive history of museum-community research and collaboration. The program creates a new paradigm for community-led science learning and environmental action for underserved families As with all PISEC projects, CLUES focuses on whole families as learning units. In CLUES, science apprentices from the CBOs spend a year in one of the four PISEC museums learning to become informal science educators, developing family science workshops, and training community presenters to conduct workshops for local families.

    More information about CLUES