Learning in Museums


Kevin Crowley
Gaea Leinhardt
University of Pittsburgh


Families, individuals, and students visit museums to learn about art, history, science, and natural history. This course will examine current research and practice relevant to the museum as an environment for learning and teaching. We will focus on four core questions:

1. What kinds of learning could occur in museums?

2. How do we know that people are learning in museums?

3. What's the difference between learning in museums and learning elsewhere?

4. What's the best environment to promote museum learning?

Our pursuit of these questions will involve reading and discussing current basic and applied research relevant to museum learning as well as conducting studies of learning in local museums. In the first half of the semester, the seminar will conduct one study together in order to illustrate methods of data collection, data reduction, coding, and analysis for museum learning. In the second half of the semester, students will work in small groups to conduct novel studies of museum learning. Studies could focus on a range of topics, including science, history, art, natural history, and early childhood. The instructors will arrange for field sites and provide help in obtaining human subject clearance.

Throughout the course, you might find it useful to use the on-line resources of the Museum Learning Collaborative [http://mlc.lrdc.pitt.edu/mlc] as a starting point for your queries. The MLC has put a searchable database of hundreds of citations relevant to museum learning on the web. Many of the citations also include a short annotation by one of the MLC researchers. Museum research is sometimes published in specialized journals and books that can be difficult to obtain from the libraries at the University of Pittsburgh or Carnegie Mellon. If you can't find something, check with the instructors. We've been developing an extensive research library containing many of the articles and books cited in the MLC database.



I. What kinds of learning could occur in museums?


Overview of the Readings and Projects

Discussion of the best way to define learning


II.What kinds of learning could occur in museums?


1. Leinhardt, Gaea. (1997). The Museum Learning Collaborative. A proposal to IMLS.

2. Falk, J. H. & Dierking, L. D. (1992). "Museum learning defined". Section 3.7 in The Museum Experience. Washington, D.C.: Whalesback Books.

3. Matusov, E., & Rogoff, B. (1995). Evidence of development from people's participation in communities of learners. In J. H. Falk & L. D. Dierking (Eds.), Public institutions for personal learning: Establishing a research agenda . Washington D.C.: American Association of Museums.

4. Alexander, E. P. (1979). Museums in Motion. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History.

Everyone reads "Chapter 1: What is a museum?." Based on their interests, students will also choose one of the following:


III. How do we know that people are learning in museums?

Tracking, Timing, and Interviewing Individual Visitors

1. Sandifer, C. (1997). Time-based behaviors at an interactive science museum: exploring the differences between weekend/weekend and family/nonfamily visitors. Science Education, 81(6), 689-701.

2. Paris, S. G., Troop, W. P., Henderlong, J., & Sulfaro, M. M. (1994). Children's Explorations in a Hands-On Science Museum. The Kamehameha Journal of Education, 5, 83-92.

3. Allen, S. (1997). Using scientific inquiry activities in exhibit explanations. Science Education, 81 (6), 715-734.


IV. How do we know that people are learning in museums?

Family Conversation and Action

1. Crowley, K., Callanan, M.A., Jipson, J., & Shrager, J. Shared scientific reasoning in parent-child interactions. Manuscript under editorial review.

2. Cone, C. A., & Kendall, K. (1978). Space, Time, and Family Interaction: Visitor Behavior at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Curator, 21(3), 245-258.

3. Borun, M., Chambers, M., & Cleghorn, A. (1996). Families Are Learning in Science Museums. Curator, 39(2), 123-138.

Designing a Study of Family Learning

Jane Werner, Head of Exhibits and Programs, Pittsburgh Children's Museum will provide an overview of the PCM's new traveling exhibit, "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood". We will work collaboratively to refine some general questions about family learning in the exhibit to a precise research question.


V. Discourse Analysis Workshop 1

Sex Differences in Science Museums: An Example Problem for Discourse Analysis

1. Diamond, J. (1994). Sex differences in science museums: A review. Curator, 37(1), 17-24.

2. Greenfield, T. A. (1995). Sex Differences in Science Museum Exhibit Attraction. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 32(9), 925-938.

3. Crowley, K., Callanan, M.A., Tenenbaum, H.R., & Allen, E. Evidence of early gender bias in informal science education. Manuscript under editorial review.

Conversation Analysis Workshop

Using an existing data base of naturalistic family museum visits, we will begin to prototype coding schemes for use on the new PCM data. We will cover issues of data reduction, coding scheme development, and inter-rater reliability.


VI. Discourse Analysis Workshop 2

There is no additional reading this week. Out-of-class time in the prior week will be spent collecting data at the Pittsburgh Children's Museum. In class we will continue to develop and apply coding schemes to PCM data.


VII. Learning in museums compared to learning in classrooms

1. Schauble, L., Banks, D.B., Coates, G.D., Martin, L. M. W., Sterling, P. V. (1996). Outside the classroom walls: Learning in informal environments. In L. Schauble & R. Glaser (Eds), Innovations in learning: New environments for education, pp. 5-24.

2. Korpan, C.A., Bisanz, G.L., Bisanz, J., Boeheme, C., & Lynch, M.A. (1997). What did you learn outside of school today? Using structured interviews to document home and community activities related to science and technology. Science Education, 81 (6), 651-662.

Group Studies

Your group should come to class with a fleshed out version of a research proposal. We will overview how to prepare an IRB proposal for use of human subjects in research.


VIII. The field trip

1. Griffin, J., & Symington, D. (1997). Moving from Task-Oriented to Learning-Oriented Strategies on School Excursions to Museums. Science Education, 81(6), 763-779.

2. Paris, S., Yambor, K. M., & Packard, B. W.-L. (in press). Hands-On Biology: A Museum-Schools-University Partnership for Enhancing Children's Interest in Learning Science. Elementary School Journal.

3. Anderson, D. & Lucas, K.B. (1997). The effectiveness of orienting students to the physical features of a science museum prior to visitation. Research in Science Education, 27(4), 485-495.

4. Falk, J.H., & Dierking, L.D. (1997). Assessing the long-term impact of school field trips. Curator, 40(3), 211-218.

Group Studies

Your group will come to class with a draft of your IRB proposal. During class you will work to finalize your methodology. Final IRB proposal must be turned in to the instructors by Wed. Nov 4.

IX. What's the best environment to promote museum learning?

1. Robinson, E. S. (1930). Psychological problems of the science museum. The Museum News. Sept. 1.

2. Gelman, R., Massey, C.M., & McManus, M. (1991). Characterizing supporting environments for cognitive development: Lessons from a children's museum. In L.B. Resnick, J.M. Levine, and S.D. Teasley (Eds), Perspectives on socially shared cognition. Washington, DC: APA.

3. Crowley, K. & Callanan, M.A. (1998). Identifying and supporting shared scientific reasoning in parent-child interactions. Journal of Museum Education, 23, 12-17.

Group studies

In-class work on details of methods.


X. What's the best environment to promote museum learning?

1. Schauble, L., & Bartlett, K. (1997). Constructing a Science Gallery for Children and Families: The Role of Research in an Innovative Design Process. Science Education, 81(6), 781-793.

2. Falk, J. H. (1997). Testing a Museum Exhibition Design Assumption: Effect of Explicit Labeling of Exhibit Clusters on Visitor Concept Development. Science Education, 81(6), 679-687.

3. Alt, M. B., & Shaw, K. M. (1984). Characteristics of ideal museum exhibits. British Journal of Psychology, 75, 25-36.

4. Nielsen, T (1998). Another look at cutting edge technology . Hand to Hand. Association of Youth Museums.

Group studies

Final methods presented to the class.



We will not meet as a seminar this week. Your group will be in the field collecting data in the time between Tue. Nov. 17 and the Thanksgiving break.


XII. In-class work on data reduction, coding, and analysis

Come to class ready to begin work on coding and analysis. The instructors will be available all afternoon for extensive consultation.


XIII. In-class work on data reduction, coding, and analysis

Come to class ready to continue your work on coding and analysis. The instructors will be available all afternoon for extensive consultation.


XIV.Poster Session of Research Findings

Groups will present their findings as research posters