We asked our followers…
The results are interesting. As renegade tour guides, many people view our tours as purely entertainment. But they’re not. Our tours take an entertainment-first approach — with a focus on passionate storytelling as a doorway into successfully engaging museum audiences and providing unforgettable educational experiences.
We know that many museum visitors want more than the traditional museum experience. In fact, a study entitled “Do Museums Matter?: Key Findings from the Museums R&D Research Collaborative” revealed that only 12% of the general public perceive museums as being educational. Other studies have revealed similar findings, such as the IMPACTS data on overall satisfaction, which revealed that “educational experience” was only a minor factor in visitors’ evaluations of cultural organizations, while “entertainment experience” counted for one-fifth of their evaluations.
These studies are nearly the opposite of what we found in our Twitter poll. But our Twitter audience is largely museum professionals, not visitors. So the results hint that while audiences value museums for their entertainment value, the museum professionals who run them focus more on educational value. But before we go jumping to this conclusion, let’s take a look at what our followers tweeted in response to our poll:
Tom has an interesting point — but how do museums become “inspiring”? If the main goal of a museum is to inspire — that is, to make their audience feel something, especially the urge to do something — then it might be highly dependent on context, interaction, and personal relevance.
Steve and Terry also make good points: awesome museums are able to entertain and educate. Yet, should the focus remain on educational value above entertainment, even though studies suggest visitors are seeking the opposite? At what point do the needs of the institution and staff overtake the demands of the audience? If museums wish to draw in new audiences, how do they meet the needs of those audiences without sacrificing their mission?
We think museums can — and should — be both. Entertainment can act as a powerful gateway to education, and with much of today’s audiences, it might just be the best way. Even for the visitors who come to the museum to learn first, they only become further engaged when their visit also proves to be really, really fun. The opposite is also true: visitors who come seeking entertainment may find themselves learning a lot more than they expected. And who knows what doorways that will open…
Whatever the primary focus of your institution, we’ve found a two-prong way to balance education with entertainment while inspiring visitors: incredible storytelling and participatory meaning creation. Great storytellers have the ability to blend fact and entertainment in ways that are both personally relevant and universal to the human experience. They can connect our modern world with that of people and things that existed hundreds or even thousands of years ago.
By setting up contexts that invite visitors to actively participate in the creation of the meaning of their experience (e.g. kinesthetic photo challenges, interactive games, short-form group activities), we shy away from a unidirectional exchange of information. Instead, we provide our guests with entertaining pathways to become doers, meaning makers, and — perhaps most importantly — learners.