The Perceived Degree of Museumness
Angeliki Antoniou and George Lepouras
Department of Computer Science and Technology, University of Peloponnese, Terma Karaiskaki, 22100 Tripolis, Greece
Keywords: User requirements, Museum learning technologies.
Abstract: Defining a physical or virtual space as a museum, seems to have clear implications on visitors’ behaviour
and particularly learning behaviour. Past research shows that it is essential to identify different museum
types and consider their similarities, differences and special features in order to be able to make valid
research hypotheses. However, visitors would not always define certain types of museums as museums.
Therefore, we wished to study how visitors view the different museum types and their main reasons for
visiting different museums. Investigating visitors’ different definitions and expectations, we used
questionnaires which were also used to produce a scale of museumness, the degree to which a certain
museum type fits visitors’ museum stereotypes. The analysis of the data allowed the creation of a list of
guidelines for the development of educational technology for museum use.
What makes a museum viewed as such by
researchers and also by museum visitors? Defining a
physical or virtual space as a museum seems to have
clear implications on visitors’ behaviour and
particularly learning behaviour, since our ultimate
goal is the design of educational technologies for
museum purposes.
1.1 The Perceived Degree of
A review of the literature reveals that different
authors and researchers have employed axes to
categorize museums, like the museum content (i.e.
archaeological, art, etc.), the type of audience it
refers to (i.e. children’s museums), the presentation
philosophy of the exhibition (i.e. constructivist
museums), the virtual or the physical character (i.e.
virtual collections), the educational theory different
museums follow (i.e. behaviourism), and many other
To begin with, it is important to provide a
description of what a museum is. Some researchers
choose to see museums as exhibition centres whose
primary goal is education (Bitgood, 2002), or as
some of many learning resources within a
community (other community learning resources are
libraries, colleges, etc.) (Cross, 2002), or as places
that store memories (Heumann-Gurian, 1999).
According to Heumann-Gurian (1999), past museum
definitions always contained reference to objects. As
an example, we provide the AAM (American
Association of Museums) definition of 1973: ‘…a
museum is defined as an organized and permanent
non-profit institution, essentially educational or
aesthetic in purpose, with professional staff, which
owns and utilizes tangible objects, cares for them,
and exhibits them to the public on some regular
schedule’ (AAM, 1973, p.8).
In addition, museums started as places for the
storage, protection and display of artifacts but they
are transforming to learning institutions (Kelly,
2000). This view is shared between different
professionals, like academics and curators (Falk
&Dierking, 1997). This shift of focus from
storage/display to learning and education seems to
have complied with the increasing need for lifelong
learning (Antoniou & Lepouras, 2008).
The main reason that a distinction between
different museum types is considered essential is the
possibility of generalizing research findings across
museums. The field of museum and visitor studies is
relatively new; consequently, relevant research is
only developing within the recent past. In addition, it
is also known that most research, especially
involving museum learning, takes place in science
Antoniou A. and Lepouras G. (2009).
MEETING VISITORS’ EXPECTATIONS - The Perceived Degree of Museumness.
In Proceedings of the First International Conference on Computer Supported Education, pages 187-192
DOI: 10.5220/0001830601870192
and technology museums (Hooper - Greenhill, et al,
2002). Furthermore, there is very little research that
spans different museum types. ‘…while many very
different organizations are technically labeled
“museums”, this category is formed arbitrarily based
more on economic and political reasons than on
reasons of inherent cultural meaning. However, we
believe that we can conduct parallel studies in
different museum settings in ways that honor the
distinctions among different museum types while
generating some level of comparability across them.’
(Leinhardt & Crowley, 1998, p.4). Therefore, it is
essential to identify different museum types and
consider their similarities, differences and special
features in order to be able to make valid research
hypotheses and also to use existing findings.
Bitgood (2002) believed that the key to museum
classification is education. In that light, he views
education as the primary goal of museums that takes
place through exhibitions. Therefore, museums are
exhibition centres with education as their main
mission. This definition ‘includes (but is not limited
to) art museums, history museums, botanical
gardens, science centres, nature centres, and zoos.
The concept that connects these facilities is
“educational exhibition”’ (Bitgood, 2002, p. 461).
The diversity of characteristics of the above
institutions implies a similar diversity in the learning
processes within their boundaries. Bitgood’s
definition actively excludes Theme Parks that
contain the educational element but their primary
goal is profit. Moreover, many researchers view
museums as informal learning environments. Such
environments include science museums, field sites,
zoos, etc and experimental results demonstrate that
they enhance learning significantly (Falk &
Dierking, 1997). However, the boundaries of the
different learning institutions are not clear. Mellor
(2001) viewed museums as archival institutions and
attempted a distinction between them. Museums,
archives and libraries are all types of archival
institutions. So far, we tried to ‘see’ what museums
are, compared mainly to what they are not. To
summarize the above literature, here is the museum
definition we reached:
Museums are learning environments with
education as their primary mission (and not profit).
They are also archival institutions with relatively
few collection boundaries and developed over time-
as either specialist or generalist institutions- a
commitment to the display of 3D objects (although
this is not necessary). Collections could include
books and documents, plants and living organisms
(however, this does not transform them into
libraries, archives, gardens or zoos).
In additions to our definition, we also provide the
current AAM definition of museums. Museums
‘…present regularly scheduled programs and
exhibits that use and interpret objects for the public
according to accepted standards; have a formal and
appropriate program of documentation, care, and use
of collections and/or tangible objects…’ (AAM,
1997, p.20).
However, very interesting results come from the
field of visitor studies. It seems that not always
visitors agree with the above definitions of
museums. Visitors would not always define certain
types of museums as museums! Although many
researchers believe that art galleries are types of
museums, in a study conducted by Kelly (1999),
participants made ‘clear distinction between an “art
gallery experience” and a museum experience. They
felt that a museum is characterized by the active
learning experiences it provides, which is stronger or
more explicit than the learning experiences art
galleries provide (Kelly, 1999). Thus, the notion of
learning is a very strong museum defining factor in
the visitor’s perceptions. As exhibition environments
with explicit and active learning options, certain
museums are perceived as of higher ‘museumness’,
than exhibition environments with indirect and
implicit learning options (like art galleries). We
introduce the term museumness in order to describe
visitors’ perceptions on a certain physical or virtual
space and whether this space forms a typical
museum or not. Museumness does not form a yes or
no category; rather it suggests a continuum that
different museum types can have higher or lower
scores. For example, visitors might consider both an
archaeological museum and an art gallery as
museums, but of different degree of museumness,
since the former collects all the stereotypical
characteristics that form the notions of museums and
the latter contains fewer of those characteristics.
Therefore, although researchers view art galleries,
zoos, aquaria and botanical gardens as different
museums, visitors do not always agree with them,
thinking that these do not follow the stereotypical
characteristics of a museum in its traditional form.
Apart from the direct connection to learning, visitors
might also be influenced by the physicality of
objects that the museum might or might not have.
For example, a science museum does not necessarily
contain historical objects. It could perform its
purposes solely with the use of technology.
However, some visitors might not characterize it as a
museum, because of this physical absence of objects.
CSEDU 2009 - International Conference on Computer Supported Education
Therefore, visitors’ perceived degree of museumness
might affect their (learning) behaviour in a museum.
1.2 Museum Type
From this point onwards, and after having defined
museums, we will attempt to identify different
museum types. For this identification process
different authors use different criteria. One of them
is the objectness (term used by Heumann-Gurian,
1999) of a museum; many museums are heavily
object dependent, like archeological museums,
whereas others like science museums and children’s
museums, are more concept dependent. Heumann-
Gurian (1999) elaborated further on a museum type
classification, based on object properties. Such
properties were: Object uniqueness (archaeological
museums), ownership of object (art museums),
purpose- built objects (science museums, children’s
museums), portability of objects (an opposite
example is a Planetarium), etc. However, the
analysis of object properties is not the only solution
to the problems of museum-types classification.
Other researchers prefer to differentiate between
museums based on the educational theory they
follow. Educational theory consists of two major
components: a theory of knowledge and a theory of
learning (Jackson, et al, 1994; Russell, 1994). In that
light, Hein (1995) produced a theory that combined
the two dimensions of educational theory by treating
those dimensions as axes. In the one end of the
horizontal axis the theories that allow the learner to
construct knowledge are placed. On the other end of
the same axis, the theories that provide the learner
with adding parts of information are found.
Similarly, on the vertical axis, realism is placed on
the one end and relativism on the other. This
implied that every learning theory must have a core
epistemology and this core must necessarily involve
philosophical considerations.
Based on the learning theory museums follow,
Hein also produced a taxonomy of museum types. In
that light, a Systematic Museum follows the
principles of learning that provide the visitor with
adding bits of information and at the same time
accepts realism. An Orderly Museum also follows
the same learning theory but respects relativism. A
Discovery Museum follows the learning theories
that allow visitors to construct meaning within the
theoretical context of realism. Finally, a
Constructivist Museum, accepts learning theories
that support visitor meaning construction and at the
same time relativistic epistemological approaches.
Hein did not focus on the museum contents, as most
classifications do, but on the learning philosophy
they choose to follow.
Similarly, not focusing on the museum content
but rather on the exhibition philosophy, Russell
(1994) differentiates between two main museum
types. The first type, the ancestral museum enhances
top-down cognitive processes, by providing a notion
of reality in a positivist fashion. The other type, the
constructivist museum, supports bottom-up
processes, allows experimentations, creativity,
hands-on activities, and discovery learning. So, the
distinction concentrates on museums that choose to
narrate a story (i.e. by placing items in a
chronological order) and on museums that provide
opportunities for the personal construction of
meaning (i.e. children’s museums sometimes use
ambiguous objects).
Moreover, some classifications are based on the
use of technology and especially the development of
the WWW. ‘A virtual museum is a collection of
electronic artifacts and information resources-
virtually anything which can be digitized. The
collection may include paintings, drawings,
photographs, diagrams, graphs, recordings, video
segments, newspaper articles, transcripts of
interviews, numerical databases and a host of other
items which may be saved on the virtual museum’s
file server.’ (FNO, 1995). Many known museums
also have a web site in which they provide a virtual
experience. Additionally, galleries and also virtual
galleries, simply provide the objects with limited
explanations. On the other hand, museums and
virtual museums, place a greater emphasis upon
theme, interpretation and explanation (FNO, 1996).
Although, there is, so far, very little research on
learning through museum websites, the distinction
between virtual and physical museums is an
important one, since there is some evidence that
visitor behaviour is different between the two.
In a bibliographic review, Hooper-Greenhill &
Moussouri (2002) provided a very useful list of
different museum types and also relevant research
for each type. Briefly, these categories included 1)
science and technology museums, 2) children’s
museums, 3) art museums, 4) history and
archaeology museums, and heritage sites, 5) zoos,
aquaria and botanical gardens. In each category
learning demands are very different either due to the
specific target group (children’s learning vs. adult
learning), or due to a direct connection to objects
(archaeological museums vs. science museums), or
due to the presentation philosophy (history museums
vs. children’s museums), etc. The unique conditions
in each museum type make it difficult to generalize
MEETING VISITORS' EXPECTATIONS - The Perceived Degree of Museumness
findings from one type to another. This need to
consider each type’s characteristics separately is also
reflected in a study by Dierking & Falk (1998). The
researchers found that families and schools preferred
to visit science centres, natural history museums,
historical sites, children’s museums, zoos, aquaria.
Adult –only visitors showed a preference to art
museums, historical homes, craft & design
museums, botanical gardens and arboreta.
Finally, in the present study we wished to
explore how visitors view the different museum
types and their expectations in regards to learning or
other activities they might want to be offered in a
museum. Therefore, the different museum types are
classified based on the visitors’ perceptions. We
wanted to explore whether the way people view the
different institutions affects their activity preferences
or not.
In order to clarify issues on visitors’ museum
notions, we designed and distributed a questionnaire.
The participants were undergraduate students of the
Department of Computer Science and Technology,
University of Peloponnese (Tripolis, Greece).
Visitors’ definitions of a museum and
expectations shape the learning experience they
have. Similarly, any learning technology used in a
museum should consider carefully the different
stereotypes and attitudes that the visitors’ might
have and attempt to comply with the different
environments and needs. We wished to explore the
perceived degree of museumness of the different
museum types, the participants’ attitudes and
expectations towards the different types and the role
of technology.
Our research goals were:
1) To determine how high each museum type
scored on a museumness scale
2) To find out the intended main activity in each
museum type (i.e. education, entertainment,
Our research outcomes were:
1) A scale of the perceived degree of
2) A list of guidelines for the focus of technology
in each museum type.
The list of museums included zoos, art galleries,
industrial museums, science museums, children’s
museums, botanical gardens, archaeological
museums, historical museums, aquaria, and
technology museums.
The main questions were:
1) Which of the following are typical examples
of museums?
2) What will be your main activity in each
museum type?
The 28 questionnaires that were used in total
contained categorical (nominal data). The variables
used were:
Museum Type (i.e. Zoo, Archaeological,
Historical, Children’s, etc.)
Perceived degree of museumness (values -
yes it is a museum, might be, no it is not)
Main activity (socialization, entertainment,
Secondary activity (socialization,
entertainment, learning)
Least preferred activity (socialization,
entertainment, learning)
The statistical analysis used the Pearson chi
square test.
Perceived Degree of Museumness and Museum
Type: The first set of tests wished to explore
participants’ views on different museums. The null
hypothesis was formed as following: There would
not be any statistically significant differences
between the degrees of museumness of the different
museums. This hypothesis was rejected since the
statistical analysis showed a highly significant value,
with ײ(18,280) = .00, p<.001
Museum Type and Main Activity: Comparing
Museum Type and participants’ preferred activity,
the null hypothesis was that: There would not be any
differences between peoples preferred activities for
the different museum types. The results were once
again highly significant, with ײ(18,279) = .00,
p<.001 and the null hypothesis was rejected.
Museum Type and Secondary Activity: Similarly
the chi square test revealed high correlations, with
ײ(18,269) = .00, p<.001 when museum type was
compared to the next preferred activity of the
participants for the different museum types.
Museum Type and Least Preferred Activity: The
results remain significant, with ײ(18,269) = .00,
p<.001 when the least preferred activity for the
different museum types was tested.
Perceived Degree of Museumness and Main
Activity: The analysis of the two variables showed
significant correlations, with ײ(4,279) = .00, p<.001
CSEDU 2009 - International Conference on Computer Supported Education
4.1 Museumness Scale
The statistical analysis revealed that indeed the
different museum types are viewed as of different
degrees of museumness by the visitors. In addition,
this analysis allowed the formation of a museumness
scale (Table 1). At the one end of the scale there are
museums like zoos and aquaria, since the majority or
participants did not think that these institutions
gather the characteristics needed in order to be
classified as museums. At the opposite end of the
scale, one could find museums that the participants
considered typical examples of museums, like
historical and archaeological ones. The table below
shows how its museum scored on a museumness
scale, going progressively from the museums low in
museumness to the ones with higher degrees of
museumness at the bottom of the table.
Table 1: Museumness Scale.
o, it is not a
Yes, it is a
Zoo 68% 7%
57% 11%
50% 7%
Children’s 36% 29%
Art Gallery 14% 43%
Industrial 14% 68%
7% 75%
Science 0% 71%
0% 100%
ical 0% 100%
4.2 Perceived Degree of Museumness
and Main Activity
Furthermore, the different degrees of museumness
highly correlate with the preferred and the expected
activities of their visitors in their premises. The
primary activity that visitors expect and want to
perform in institutions that they consider museums is
learning. When an institution is not seen as a
museum, the visitors expect and wish to entertain
themselves. These stereotypes seem dominant since
the correlation found was highly significant. The
findings imply that the design of a ‘fun’ activity in a
historical or archaeological museum will at least
surprise the visitor, or some visitors might see it as
inappropriate. In the same way, institutions with low
degrees of museumness require the implementation
of entertaining and/or edutaining applications in
their premises.
4.3 Guidelines
The present study demonstrates the need to match
the technology to the museums of different thematic
content. Visitors seem to have strong expectations
and stereotypes when it comes to museum related
activities. It is important to recognize these
variations and adapt the activity and the technology
content accordingly. Past research shows that
matching people’s expectations, increases
satisfaction and motivation (Vroom, 1964).
Depending on what people think about a museum,
affects what they expect to do in the museum
premises. These findings influence the design of
technology for museum use.
More specifically, the focus of technology in a
zoo and an aquarium should be primarily on
entertainment, secondly on learning, and thirdly on
socialization. In children’s museums people expect
primarily entertainment, secondly socialization and
lastly learning. Art galleries and historical museums
demonstrate similar characteristics when it comes to
activity expectations. In both museums people
expect to learn first, socialize secondly, while
entertainment is not considered necessary. Due to
their high scores on the museumness scale museums
like archaeological, industrial, science and
technology require applications that enhance
learning mainly and then entertainment and
In addition, the very nature of contemporary
museums with education being their main focus, as
discussed above, implies that the needs identified in
this research could be also viewed within the
framework of life long learning. In this light, the
need for socialisation could be viewed as a need for
collaborative learning, the need for entertainment as
a need for edutainment and the need for learning as a
need for more formal and/or more traditional
learning approaches (Antoniou & Lepouras, 2008).
However, these findings might be culturally
dependent and they might only function in a specific
setting. In addition, the present work, due to time
limitations, was restricted in a small sample size that
nevertheless provided very significant results. The
specific results found here should be cross checked
in different settings. In this light, the main point is to
MEETING VISITORS' EXPECTATIONS - The Perceived Degree of Museumness
consider issues of museumness in different contexts
before the design of applications for museums and
how these issues might affect visitors’ expectations.
Targeting the design of museum learning
applications, clarifying issues of visitors’
perceptions was important. The present work, at the
initial phases of the design process, provides a basis
for the development of design ideas. Therefore,
knowing the museum type, the content of specific
applications can be decided, whether that is
primarily learning, entertainment, socialization or
any other activity.
The authors wish to thank the students that
participated in the study, as well as Prof. C.
Agriadoni (University of Thessaly) for her valuable
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