At this time of year, many of us are looking for presents and if you are like me, you might be debating should you buy something fun or something educational? This kind of question comes up all year round when you work in a museum or science centre and you are developing interactives and you consider in the use of ‘interactive’ are we privileging the physical at the cost of the intellectual and emotional?

    Pine and Gilmore (1998) define experience as something that is memorable and personal. Memorable and personal experiences are those that include high levels of customer participation and the connection. In addition, “experiences, like goods and services, have to meet a customer need; they have to work; and they have to be deliverable” (Pine & Gilmore, 1998, p. 102).

    If you switch the word “audience” for “customer” could this be the mission for the public program department at a museum? The use of the physical can go hand in hand with the development of the intellectual and emotional. Roth and Jornet (2014) concur when they write “ experience … integrates the physical-practical, intellectual, and affective moments of the human life form that interpenetrate each other” (p. 106).

    The best way to integrate the physical within the museum is by the use of interactives. “Museum exhibits not only engage visitors and help them to construct meanings, they usually also reference the larger world of cultural subject knowledge. The represents the part of the component that Dewey called ‘interactivity’, which… has breadth and depth and needs to be considered in discussing experience” (Hein, 2006, p. 193).

    In his description of a museum interactive, Shea (2013) urges us not to sacrifice entertainment for education when in fact “enjoyment causes the visitor to positively engage with the objects and therefore to develop an interest in learning about the technology that makes them work, producing a desire to discover just how exactly they do it”. This quest for meaning-making is what Roth and Jornet (2014) emphasize about Dewey’s (1938) definition of experience when they say “the most important among the attitudes to be developed in and through experience is ‘the desire to go on learning’” (p. 116).

    Having fun at an interactive does not automatically diminish the potential of educative experiences, if anything, it is an important ingredient.

    Pine, J., & Gilmore, J. (1998). Welcome to the experience economy. Harvard Business Review, 76(4), 97–106.

    Hein, G. (2009). John Dewey’s ‘wholly original philosophy’ and its significance for museums. Curator, 49(2), 181–203.

    Roth, W.-M., & Jornet, A. (2013). Toward a theory of experience. Science Education, 98(1), 106–126. doi:10.1002/sce.21085

    Shea, M. (2014). The hands-on model of the internet: Engaging diverse groups of visitors. Journal of Museum Education, 39(2), 216–226. 

    Thanks to my UBC Masters of Museum Education cohort for asking this question. Learn more about the Masters of Museum Education at UBC here  Applications for 2016 close in March.

    Kim Gough


    Acting Director of Audience Experience

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