Recommendations for training guides, explainers and scientists for communicating STEM to the public

By Elizabeth Walsh - May 2011


Silva, J., & Bultitude, K. (2009). Best practice in communications training for public engagement with science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Journal of Science Communication8(2). 322 – 357.


This article includes a list of guidelines for best practices in training courses for STEM communication including that the courses be practical, interactive, use modeling, allow for feedback, utilize an audience, and provide opportunities for reflection.

What Is The Issue?

In informal learning environments, science experts, explainers, and guides need support in their work to educate the general public in STEM topics. This study surveyed participants and trainers in communications training programs to determine the best methods for achieving such a purpose. The researchers suggest that training programs be practical, authentic and interactive, and provide participants opportunities for feedback.

What Was The Study?

In this study, researchers surveyed participants and trainers via an online survey and semi-structured interviews. Eighty-six people responded to the survey, including STEM researchers (26), science center or museum explainers (22), and trainers (39). These respondents represented 47 communications training programs from 17 countries. Sixteen phone interviews were conducted to explore some issues in-depth.

What Were The Findings?

The researchers found that most participants in the training workshops were there for personal development and felt that the experience was a positive one. Findings related to which kinds of activities were valued by participants and trainers include:

The preferred style of the training program was practical and interactive. Training that encouraged learning by actual performance was viewed as successful. This involved having the trainer demonstrate and then having others perform and receive feedback, while practicing at a live event. Trainees also welcomed opportunities for reflection. Overall, trainees felt that these experiences had improved their language skills and increased their self-confidence. One factor that didn’t find favor with trainees was that explainers wanted a greater level of scientific content in their courses. Trainers indicated that having a number of trainers at a session was effective as it made the session more dynamic, besides bringing in more skill sets and viewpoints to the discussion table.

The researchers posit a list of guidelines for best practices in training courses for STEM communication. They conclude that these courses should be practical and interactive, use the modeling approach described above, provide opportunities for feedback, and, if possible, utilize a live audience. Further, they suggest that training opportunities also include reflection, a higher quality of materials than is currently available, allow interaction between trainees and peers to share their experiences, have multiple trainers, and be suitably tailored for the specific needs of the trainee class.