National Science Foundation Advancing Informal STEM Learning Program

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A New Program Name for the Informal Science Education Program at the National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation released the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) solicitation, posted April 9th, 2014: (NSF-14555 ).

The name of the program has changed from Informal Science Education (ISE) to Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL). AISL better emphasizes the priorities of the solicitation and the changes at NSF:

Advancing: This emphasizes that AISL seeks innovative projects that advance the field and that requests need to go beyond just proposing a new exhibit, program or film.

Informal: This continues to emphasize that the program is interested in out-of-school learning that makes learning Lifelong, Life Wide (occurring across multiple venues) and Life Deep (occurring at different levels of complexity).

STEM: This recognizes that the program is not just focused on science, but all of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Learning: Whether for personal satisfaction, professional advancement, or fulfilling learning requirements for pre-K through graduate and professional education, there are increasing opportunities for learning in informal environments. These personalized learning options and participatory learning environments are also expanding and broadening participation in STEM. Recent reports encourage measuring learning outcomes in such terms as interest, engagement, motivation, behavior, identity, persistence, understanding, awareness, knowledge, and use of STEM content and practices, and 21st century skills.

The AISL program is one of several grant programs in NSF's Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL). The AISL program seeks to advance new approaches to and evidence based understanding of the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments; provide multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences; advance innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments; and develop understandings of deeper learning by participants. The AISL program supports five types of projects:

  • Pathways,
  • Research in Service to Practice,
  • Innovations in Development,
  • Broad Implementation,
  • Conferences, Symposia, and Workshops.

There are new merit review criteria as of January 14, 2013: proposers should familiarize themselves with the Merit Review Principles and Criteria described in GPG Chapter III.A. For comprehensive materials visit the Revised Merit Review Criteria Resource site.

On October 19, 2014, NSF AISL Program Officers gave a presentation on submitting competitive proposals for solicitation NSF 14-555. Those slides are available here.

For more information about AISL and funding opportunities:

view the AISL solicitation 

Resources for Working with National Science Foundation Support

AISL Solicitation Webinars

In November and December 2013, NSF AISL Program Officers held webinars designed to provide an overview of the AISL solicitation (13-608), respond to questions from participants, and provide more depth related to key elements of the solicitation including changes and new components. This link includes slides, transcripts, and audio from these webinars.

Submitting Competitive NSF Proposals Presentation, ASTC 2014 Annual Conference

Presentation slides on submitting competitive Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) proposals, originally presented at the 2014 Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) Annual Conference.

The 2010 User-Friendly Handbook for Project Evaluation

This Handbook features types of evaluation, quantitative and qualitative methods, and culturally–responsive strategies. It is based on NSF–funded programs and its principles can be applied to projects with other funding sources.

Introduction to the AISL Program’s Online Project Monitoring System (OPMS)

The OPMS is an online system tailored specifically to the National Science Foundation’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) Program. The OPMS allows NSF to document the characteristics, strategies, and impacts of AISL projects. Data from the OPMS are also used to address questions raised by Congress and other stakeholders about the range of activities and outcomes associated with the AISL program.

Framework for Evaluating Impacts of ISE Projects

This Handbook offers background about NSF's evolving reporting requirements and advice from evaluators about how to gather evidence of project impacts.

Explore more CAISE curated Informal Science Education Resources to learn about the field, develop proposals, and identify innovative, researched-based ways to engage public audiences with STEM knowledge and practices.

More Resources 


Informal Commons Logo is powered by Informal Commons

Informal Commons is growing collection of digital resources for ISE Professionals indexed from multiple informal science education websites, many funded through the NSF AISL Program. Visit the following Informal Commons websites to find resources and search across them using

  • Dimensions Magazine: the bimonthly magazine of the Association of Science-Technology Centers, features a mix of in-depth analysis and briefs of noteworthy events and resources for the science center field.
  • Citizen science projects, toolkits, and reference materials.
  • Exhibit case studies and reviews.
  • science and math instructional materials.
  • The CAISE collection of projects, research, reference materials, and evaluation records.
  • open source multitouch multiuser software for exhibits.
  • articles from Exhibitionist, on exhibition theory and practice, exhibition critiques and commentary, book reviews, technical articles, and essays.
  • educational programs and activities, media, exhibits, evaluation reports, and tools and guides for professional educators.
  • current peer-reviewed research briefs relevant to informal science education (ISE)
  • a searchable website of assessment tools for informal science learning
  • evaluation products and publications archives

Selected Resources From AISL Program Solicitation

Common Guidelines for Education Research and Development

This document released in Fall 2013 represents a joint effort by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and U.S. Department of Education (ED) to establish cross-agency guidelines for improving the quality, coherence, and pace of knowledge development in STEM education. It defines the types of NSF- and ED-funded research, as well as how they relate to one another, and the theoretical and empirical basis needed to justify each research type.

A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas

This 2012 report outlines a broad set of expectations for students in science and engineering in grades K-12. These expectations informed the development of new standards for K-12 science education known as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The standards are expected to have an impact on curriculum, instruction, assessment, and professional development for educators.

Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century

This 2012 book describes an important set of key 21st-Century skills that increase deeper learning, college and career readiness, student-centered learning, and higher order thinking.

Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America's Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads

This 2011 book describes and recommends policies and practices that encourage underrepresented minority participation in the STEM workforce based on current labor projections.

Surrounded by Science

Based on the National Research Council study Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits, this book is a tool that provides case studies, illustrative examples, and probing questions for practitioners.

Scientific Research in Education

This 2002 book describes the similarities and differences between scientific inquiry in education and scientific inquiry in other fields and disciplines and provides a number of examples to illustrate these ideas.

Preparing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators: Identifying and Developing Our Nation’s Human Capital

This report is the result of a two-year study that sought to provide a sustained, coherent, and proactive effort to identify and develop the future science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) innovators in the United States. It puts forth several policy recommendations for achieving that goal.

Empowering the Nation Through Discovery and Innovation: NSF Strategic Plan FY 2011-2016

The NSF Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2011-2016 describes the missions, long-term goals, and means to achieving these goals for the agency. The plan was developed by a working group consisting of office and directorate deputies and received input from NSF staff and advisory committee members representing the science and engineering communities.

Fostering Learning in the Networked World: The Cyberlearning Opportunity and Challenge

This 2008 report from the NSF Task Force on Cyberlearning describes a 21st-century agenda funding cyberlearning projects for the National Science Foundation.

Large-Scale Science Education Intervention Research We Can Use

This article describes design-based implementation research (DBIR) as a research strategy that focuses on what is required to bring interventions and knowledge about learning to all students, wherever they might engage in science learning.

Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) for America's Future

This 2010 report prepared by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) provides recommendations to the federal government for supporting the improvement of STEM education at a national level.

Expanding Evidence Approaches for Learning in a Digital World

This 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology examines how the transition to digital learning warrants a re-examination of how we think about educational evidence, and describes new data-gathering methods to support digital learning.

Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology

This 2010 report prepared by the U.S. Department of Education with recommendations for states, districts, the federal government, and other stakeholders to address five essential components of learning powered by technology.