Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL)

DRL invests in projects to improve the effectiveness of STEM learning for people of all ages. Its mission includes promoting innovative research, development, and evaluation of learning and teaching across all STEM disciplines by advancing cutting-edge knowledge and practices in both formal and informal learning settings. DRL also promotes the broadening and deepening of capacity and impact in the educational sciences by encouraging the participation of scientists, engineers, and educators from the range of disciplines represented at NSF. Therefore, DRL's role in the larger context of Federal support for education research and evaluation is to be a catalyst for change—advancing theory, method, measurement, development, and application in STEM education. The Division seeks to advance both early, promising innovations as well as larger-scale adoptions of proven educational innovations. In doing so, it challenges the field to create the ideas, resources, and human capacity to bring about the needed transformation of STEM education for the 21st century.

Because NSF is the premier Federal agency supporting basic research at the frontiers of discovery in the STEM fields, DRL takes as a central principle that new and emerging areas of STEM must figure prominently into efforts to improve STEM education at all levels and in all settings. Its programs should reflect this through the integration of cutting-edge STEM content and the engagement of STEM researchers in all DRL initiatives.

The Division’s programs offer a set of complementary approaches for advancing research, development, and field-based improvement strategies.

  • The Discovery Research K-12 (DR- K12) program seeks to enable significant advances in K-12 student and teacher learning of the STEM disciplines, through research and development of innovative resources, models, and technologies for use by students, teachers, administrators and policy makers.
  • The Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program builds on educational research and practice and seeks to increase interest in, engagement with, and understanding of STEM by individuals of all ages and backgrounds through self-directed STEM learning experiences.
  • The Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program seeks to engage students and teachers in the creative use of information technologies within the context of STEM learning experiences in school and other learning settings.
  • The Computer Science for All (CSforAll) program aims to provide all U.S. students with opportunities to participate in high quality computer science and computational thinking education at the preK-12 levels. Toward this end, it supports fundamental research on learning and instruction of computer science and computational thinking, and supports research-practice partnerships to increase instructional capacity in schools.
  • The EDU Core Research (ECR) program of fundamental research in STEM education provides funding in critical research areas that are essential, broad and enduring. EDU seeks proposals that will help synthesize, build and/or expand research foundations in the following focal areas: STEM learning, STEM learning environments, STEM workforce development, and broadening participation in STEM.  The ECR program is distinguished by its emphasis on the accumulation of robust evidence to inform efforts to (a) understand, (b) build theory to explain, and (c) suggest interventions (and innovations) to address persistent challenges in STEM interest, education, learning, and participation. The program supports advances in fundamental research on STEM learning and education by fostering efforts to develop foundational knowledge in STEM learning and learning contexts, both formal and informal, from childhood through adulthood, for all groups, and from the earliest developmental stages of life through participation in the workforce, resulting in increased public understanding of science and engineering. The ECR program will fund fundamental research on: human learning in STEM; learning in STEM learning environments, STEM workforce development, and research on broadening participation in STEM.

Each of these programs is intended to improve the capacity of their respective fields to further STEM learning. They are central to NSF’s strategic goals of Learning and Discovery, helping to cultivate a world-class, broadly inclusive STEM workforce, expanding the scientific literacy of all citizens, and promoting research that advances the frontiers of knowledge.


Credit: The Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico