OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Free-Choice Learning Leaders to Join OSU

04/25/2006

CORVALLIS, Ore. - National leaders in the growing field of free-choice, lifelong learning have been named to a new faculty position at Oregon State University.

John H. Falk and Lynn D. Dierking, who are married, have been hired jointly to fill a tenured professor position within the OSU College of Science Department of Science and Mathematics Education.

Falk and Dierking are president and associate director, respectively, of the Institute for Learning Innovation in Annapolis, Md. Founded by Falk in 1986, the institute is a not-for-profit research and development organization that works to understand, facilitate and advocate for free-choice – or informal – learning. They will continue their roles as part-time senior researchers at the institute, but will move to Oregon this summer and join the OSU faculty in the fall, each working half-time.

Falk and Dierking have been associated with the OSU over the last three years as courtesy faculty with the department and working closely with the Oregon Sea Grant program. Sea Grant is jointly funding the new professorship with the department through the position’s first five years.

"We are delighted to have professionals of their caliber joining us,” said Sherman Bloomer, dean of the College of Science at OSU. “And we appreciate the initiative and the collaborative spirit that Sea Grant has brought to our relationship.”

Larry Flick, chair of the Department of Science and Mathematics Education, echoed Bloomer's sentiments. “We are thrilled with the addition of faculty in free-choice learning who will enable us to develop a graduate program that supports science learning across the lifespan, complementing and enriching our current programs in K-12 and collegiate education," Flick said.

“We are very excited about this new role at OSU,” said Lynn Dierking. “The position will enable us to accomplish one of our longstanding professional goals, to develop a graduate program for the next generation of free-choice learning leaders.”

While estimates put the number of free-choice learning professionals in the United States – from museum staff to public television producers – at more than 100,000, no graduate program or center for comprehensive research and development in the area of free-choice learning exists anywhere in the world, said Falk.

“At this point in our careers, the development of such a program at OSU and the recruitment and training of a cadre of quality graduate students is the single most important contribution we can make to the field,” he said.

Falk and Dierking are credited with coining and championing the term “free-choice,” which expresses the kind of learning that most people do throughout their lives outside of school – learning that is freely chosen and self-directed.

Falk holds a joint doctorate in ecology and science education from the University of California, Berkeley, while Dierking’s doctorate in science education is from the University of Florida. Both have written books. Falk’s newest is "Thriving in the Knowledge Age: New Business Models for Museums and Other Cultural Institution"; Dierking is working on a book focused on family learning, due in 2007.

Between them, the couple has more than 55 years of diverse experience in conducting free-choice science learning research. Both of them bring expertise in successful grant writing and project implementation; both have grants from the National Science Foundation; and both serve on the editorial boards of several academic journals. From 2000-02 they co-chaired a task force of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching identifying key issues in this arena of science learning research.

“With the addition of John Falk and Lynn Dierking to the OSU faculty, we see the makings of world-class capability in this growth area of informal education,” said Robert Malouf, the director of Oregon Sea Grant.

Through its outreach and education programs, Sea Grant has been deeply involved in free-choice/informal education for many years, Malouf said. Sea Grant also manages and staffs the public visitor center at the OSU Hatfield Marine Science and uses that science facility to understand better how people learn in informal settings.

Falk and Dierking say they look forward to collaborating with Shawn Rowe, based at Hatfield Marine Science Center, where he has been creating a social science laboratory in which to study free-choice learning.