How Can the Exhibit Promote Feelings of Self-Determination and Control?

By definition, museums are “free-choice” settings, but having too many choices in one exhibit can be overwhelming, detracting from both the enjoyment and the learning that takes place. The designers of The Color Connection experienced this problem during the first iteration of the exhibit, when they installed buttons instead of switches for turning the lights on and off. The designers found that people spent long periods pushing the buttons and creating light shows; by doing so, visitors were not learning and, ultimately, did not enjoy themselves either. When the buttons were replaced with switches that required more deliberate use, the visitors still had control over the lights, but they could manipulate them in a context of learning about white light and how it is formed. The switches slowed visitor behavior and made choices more deliberate and controlled. Because their actions were now more goal-oriented, visitors could enjoy what they were doing and feel gratified that they were gaining some information about scientific principles of light and color.

How Can the Exhibit Promote Feelings of Sensory Enjoyment and Playfulness?

In this exhibit, visitors had opportunities to crawl through the lights, put different objects in the lights, make hand shadows, and then make up stories about their hand shadows. Activities such as these remind visitors how much fun they can have simply by experiencing science-related phenomena in a playful and open-ended way.

How Can the Exhibit Stimulate Meaningful Social Interaction?

By talking to members of their group, visitors often end up teaching concepts to each other. The exhibit was designed in a way that encouraged visitors to share their experiences, discuss the phenomena they observe, and coordinate their actions. This kind of exchange not only provides opportunities for learning, but it also builds confidence, which helps keep motivation alive.

This model represents one approach to museum design. The model continues to evolve and has been tested in other settings. Nonetheless, some areas remain to be fully tested. Still, it offers a way to consider using research to plan exhibits that are more likely to draw in visitors, keep their attention, and encourage them to share knowledge and questions. Setting such goals and then determining whether they have been met not only allows museum educators to document learning, but also provides feedback for improving the quality of their offerings.12

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