Learning in Museums

Understanding reflective learning experiences in museums

keywords: museum, indoor tracking, self-regulated learning, learning analytics

Research team

Eduardo Oliveira (CIS/University of Melbourne)

Paula De Barba (CSHE/University of Melbourne)

Gregor Kennedy (CSHE/University of Melbourne)

Ben Cleveland (MSD/University of Melbourne)

Kristine Elliott (CSHE/University of Melbourne)

Tracii Ryan (CSHE/University of Melbourne)

Tingzuan Zhang (CIS/University of Melbourne)

Li Li (CIS/University of Melbourne)

Roz Mountain (University of Melbourne)

Hyejeong Kim (University of Melbourne)

Ethel Villafranca (University of Melbourne)

Jonathan Shearer (Melbourne Museum)

Cam Hocking (Melbourne Museum)

Damien Payler (Melbourne Museum)

Kate Chmiel (Melbourne Museum)

Today I'm here to write about another research that I conducted/participated at The University of Melbourne, together with Melbourne Museum, and that has come to an end.

Well, the title of our [McCoy seed fund] research was 'Understanding reflective learning experiences in museums' but could easily be renamed to 'How to design spaces to promote learning?' as our findings can be applied to different spaces.

This article will be organised as an executive summary page (extracted from our final McCoy report, available here: https://melbourne-cshe.unimelb.edu.au/research/research-programs/learning,-teaching-and-assessment-in-higher-education/understanding-reflective-learning-experiences-in-museums). I'm sorry. I just don't have enough time atm to polish this text [as I would love to] as the semester is finishing at Uni (hectic times for everyone here).

Okay, here we go... [again, this is just a summary. please try to read it until the end]

Project context

Museums are challenged to provide learning opportunities to a diverse audience. Visitors come to museums with varied backgrounds, motivations, interests, and prior knowledge. Based on these factors they regulate their learning experience, choosing what, where, and when to engage and learn.

This pilot study was designed to investigate how learning occurs within museum exhibition spaces. The study took place in The Mind exhibition at Melbourne Museum. This exhibition focuses on topics relating to human psychology, and is organized into five themes: Introduction, Feeling, Knowing, Thinking, and Being.


The aim of this pilot study was to better understand the nature of learning that takes place in museums, through the lens of self-regulated learning theories.


Data were obtained from visitors to The Mind exhibition at three points in time. Prior to entering, visitors provided self-report questionnaire data relating to their motivations for attending the exhibition. Behavioural data, in the form of trajectory and pause patterns, were then collected using Bluetooth technologies as visitors moved through the exhibition. Finally, visitors provided self-report questionnaire data about their reflections, learning strategies, perceived learning, interest development, and emotions upon leaving the exhibition.

Key Findings

Visitors to The Mind exhibition were primarily motivated to attend due to a desire to learn and to have fun.

Most visitors spent between 1 and 10 minutes in the exhibition in total, and the median time spent near each beacon was 28 seconds. The Damaged Brains, Synaesthesia Demonstration, and Sound Memory Test exhibits had the highest median visitation time (66 seconds), while the Mood Pods had the lowest median time (19 seconds).

None of the visitors paused to spend time near all thirteen beacons, although most visitors visited between five and nine beacons at least once. The Knowing: Memory and Perception area of the exhibition had the highest proportion of visitors compared to the other areas, while the Mood Pods had the lowest percentage of visits overall.

Every visitor had a unique sequence of beacon visitation through the overall exhibition; however it was possible to identify common sequences of beacon transitions in certain sections of the exhibition, such as the Thinking: Cognition and Consciousness content area. It was also possible to identify areas where visitors backtracked and revisited particular areas of the exhibition.

Two types of visitors were identified: a high engagement group and a low engagement group. These two groups came to the exhibition with different goals and levels of interest, showed different patterns of visitation, and experienced different outcomes. In particular, the high engagement group visited more individual beacons, showed backtrack transitions, were more likely to adopt deep learning strategies, and had higher levels of perceived learning and interest development than the low engagement group.

Overall, The Mind exhibition provoked visitors to develop interest in the topics covered. They also predominantly experienced positive emotional responses, such as curiosity and excitement. However, visitors were less inclined to report that the exhibition had changed the way they thought about the content of the exhibition, indicating that they hadn’t been provoked to critically reflect on matters concerning the brain and psychology to the extent that might alter, or challenge, their understandings of the topics.


A significant achievement of this pilot study was the successful mapping of exhibition visitors’ time spent, trajectories, and pause rates using Bluetooth technology. Automating the collection of such data may have benefits to the museum into the future, especially when compared with the labour intensive and expensive strategies that have been previously employed.

If performed repeatedly across multiple exhibitions, studies of this type could help identify quantitative patterns that are indicative of certain behaviours in different types of exhibits. Such detailed data may be useful in providing feedback to exhibition curators about the ‘relative success’ of different features of their exhibitions.

Cool, hey? ;)

In this project I was responsible for designing and developing the technology that was used to track participants in the exhibition (behaviours/trajectories) and, to analyse data (using n-grams/clustering and other strategies described on the report). A FANTASTIC experience and and outstanding TEAM (thank you heaps, Uni team and Melbourne Museum team, you're truly amazing) made this work possible!

I hope you enjoy reading our report. And, again, please let me know your thoughts.