From the Vice President’s Desk – May 2024

Emily MortimerFrom the Executive Director's Desk, Front Page

Beyond the Classroom: Exploring the World of Out-of-School-Time Learning


How do Komodo dragons hunt their prey? What are the best pollinator plants for my backyard? How do I become a better leader? How do I change a flat tire on my road bike? Why on earth would someone not like cilantro? How do we begin to better understand the people we work with in order to work better together? 

I’ve researched, attended classes, listened to podcasts, conducted my own research, and asked others about all these topics. We all do. Anytime we Google an answer to a random question or attend a week long STEM summer camp, we are engaging in informal learning. 

Education is a mosaic of our experiences. Some are formal experiences occurring within a formal school space. Others are informal, occurring outside of the traditional school based learning system and are called out-of-school-time (OST) learning. Where these experiences take place and what they look like varies greatly. They can look like an after-school program at a school, zoo outreach experience in a classroom, visiting a museum, hiking on a nature trail, attending an astronomy star party, or researching a topic on a computer or phone in your own house or library. The point is that they can happen everywhere! 

Falk and Dierking (2018) propose nearly 95% of our lifetime learning occurs in OST learning spaces such as a summer camp, after-school program, workshop, professional development, internet search, visiting a museum or park, scouting, 4-H, etc. Additionally, a forty-five-year-old adult with a general 4-year bachelor degree has spent, on average, 3,060 of their 16,200 days (or approximately 19%) of their life in a formal school setting. 

Now, I want to clarify, schools play a critical role in a student’s life. Numerous bodies of research continue to position the educator as one of the top three influential factors of a child’s life. I still remember the impact Mrs. Thomas and Mr. Warneky played in my life. I’m sure you can remember your most impactful teacher too. The role of the school is instrumental in a community and student’s life. 

But what happens when school is not in session? What happens when we still have questions we want to investigate after class ends? Hello, OST learning!

A person’s day-to-day experiences in their community shape a large portion of their education. The places we visit, experiences we participate in, and people we interact with make up a large part of our education. Even after we have reached adulthood, work experiences and experiences with family frame our continued education. The impact of OST learning is long-lasting. 

As we enter the start of summer, I am thankful for the opportunities available across our ecosystem from so many different STEM partners. From outreach opportunities, summer camps, day camps, and places to visit like the Tulsa Zoo, OK Aquarium,  Discovery Lab, Tulsa Air and Space Museum, Gilcrease Museum, and Hardesty BMX, we have many different ways to engage in STEM through OST learning. Each experience is carefully crafted to ensure participants are engaged in learning about STEM concepts through engaging experiences that can pique their interest and cause the most sought after reaction: “How can I learn more?” 

The most beautiful thing about OST learning is it can happen everywhere! Walking around your community comparing and contrasting architectural structures of homes, looking at how the roads are laid out, and discovering how many different types of plants exist in one square foot are ALL STEM Learning! Informal learning is all about activating our sense of wonder and curiosity so that we want to learn more. OST experiences provide the structure to cultivate a culture of lifelong learning while also potentially broadening our sense of what is possible and finding people in our communities who have similar passions and curiosities. 

This summer, I challenge you to be curious and broaden that mosaic of learning experiences. What questions do you have? What do you want to learn? How do you want to grow? OST learning is truly for everyone and can happen everywhere—where do you want it to take you?

Want to learn more about OST learning experiences for people in your life? Check out our event calendar for partner promotions or follow us on social media (@tulsastem). Want to create informal learning experiences at home? You can grab a FREE STEM in a Bag kit from one of these city parks: Chandler Park, O’Brien Park, and South County Park or download instructions plus full camp curriculum at our STEM Experience Playbook.