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Behavioural visitor research: new insights into learning

Find this session's presentations here.

The accessibility of interactive exhibitions is traditionally gauged by indicators such as the number of visits to a given exhibit, the time spent interacting with it, and the content and intensity of interaction with other visitors immediately after using an exhibit. Behavioural research shows which behavioural indicators are informative for meaningful interactions and deep learning in a science museum. This research contributes to theories about the relation between visitor behaviour, on the one hand, and both programme characteristics and visitors’ individual characteristics, on the other hand.

In this session we will present behavioural research studies that provide insight into visitor experiences. We will focus on joint exploration, verbal parent-child interactions, interaction with facilitators, and visitors’ engagement. Research results will be discussed in relation to practical decisions in programme design.


Senior Research Fellow
IOE (UCL's Faculty of Education & Society)
United Kingdom

Session speakers

Head of Development
How can educational quality of schools’ use of exhibitions be evaluated? We propose a framework for evaluation based on resulting behaviours. This framework addresses the following behaviour categories: multi-modal discussions (verbal & non-verbal behaviour); specific engagement in the learning environment; group dynamics (student & teacher). Based on a PhD-project, we argue that evaluation based on visitor behaviours provides most information about quality of educational programmes.
Director of Innovations
Observations of students as they visit museums and science centres have shown that even students from the very same school will visit the same exhibitions in diverse ways. To evaluate exhibits from the perspective of these individual differences, we study the structure of the science capital of school students, and the relation of such capital (low vs. high resources) with behaviour within the exhibit space. We discuss exploration time, interaction with gallery staff, and properties of exhibits.
Claire MacAree
Product Development
Expology has been designing social learning experiences for nearly 20 years. Based on research into the 8 dimensions of visitor engagement, they have developed a new 'Engagement App' which will be presented at Ecsite 2017. The app is a designers' tool that allows structured and optimized communication between museum practitioners and exhibition designers in meeting the visitors needs. It is a tool for expectation, alignment and strategic design focus. The App was developed in collaboration with the Norwegian Computing Centre and University of Oslo. As a unique and powerful communication platform, the new App allows designers to create installations that match client expectations, while ensuring successful visitor engagement.
Endowed Professor Cognitive Development
University of Amsterdam
In an experimental design we study how parental pre-knowledge impacts parent-child interaction at an exhibit that encourages exploration and meaning making. Results show that parents’ pre-knowledge importantly influences parents’ but not children’s behaviour during joint exploration. Choosing subjects that parents are knowledgeable about improves their scaffolding behaviour, but this has little impact on children’s exploration. Child characteristics were only related to children’s questioning.