Designing for Museum Learning

Visitor-Constructed Trails Using Mobile Technologies

Authored by: Kevin Walker

Handbook of Design in Educational Technology

Print publication date:  July  2013
Online publication date:  June  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415807340
eBook ISBN: 9780203075227
Adobe ISBN: 9781135118969


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Museums are broadly viewed as places of informal learning, and most people visit museums expecting to learn something (Moussouri, 2002; Ellenbogen, 2002; Falk and Dierking 2000; Falk, Moussouri and Coulson, 1998). My focus is not on measuring discrete ‘learning outcomes’, but on the processes by which visitors make meaning in relation to artefacts. According to Hooper-Greenhill (1999: 12), ‘The process of meaning-making is the process of making sense of experience, of explaining or interpreting the world to ourselves and others. In museums, meaning is constructed from objects, and from the sites themselves’. What is crucial to museum meaning-making is linkage—between artefacts and visitors, and between different interpretations and ideas. Ham (1999) has shown that, in museums, the amount of information is not as important as the conceptual structure into which it is placed; such structures not only facilitate information integration but constitute most of what is remembered. This mirrors what many museum exhibitions generally do—present individual artefacts within a structure which links them together to form a larger narrative. And there is, according to McLellan (2006), substantial evidence of narrative as a meaning-making tool. Doering and Pekakirk (1996) believe that visitors to a museum arrive with their own ‘entrance narratives’—a kind of internal storyline based on prior knowledge, which is then compared with the curatorial narrative(s) in a dialogic process. On the other hand, visitors with low subject knowledge willingly allow the museum to structure their visit to a certain extent (Smith and Tinio, 2008). Thus, there would seem to be scope for structuring visitors’ personalised or collaborative knowledge construction.

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