A Review of “What Makes Learning Fun?: Principles for the Design of Intrinsically Motivating Museum Exhibits”

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  • This article was downloaded by: [McGill University Library]On: 17 November 2014, At: 06:47Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Visitor StudiesPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/uvst20

    A Review of What Makes Learning Fun?:Principles for the Design of IntrinsicallyMotivating Museum ExhibitsBronwyn Bevan aa Exploratorium , San Francisco , California , USAPublished online: 25 Sep 2013.

    To cite this article: Bronwyn Bevan (2013) A Review of What Makes Learning Fun?: Principlesfor the Design of Intrinsically Motivating Museum Exhibits, Visitor Studies, 16:2, 229-232, DOI:10.1080/10645578.2013.827027

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  • Visitor Studies, 2013, 16(2), 229232Copyright C Visitor Studies AssociationISSN: 10645578 print / 1934-7715 onlineDOI: 10.1080/10645578.2013.827027

    Book Review

    Perry, D. L. (2012). What Makes Learning Fun?: Principles for the Designof Intrinsically Motivating Museum Exhibits. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMiraPress. 256 pages. ISBN: 978-0-7591-0884-4 (hbk), USD $65.00; ISBN: 978-0-7591-0885-1 (pbk), USD $30.00; ISBN: 978-0-7591-2128-7 (eBook), USD$29.99.

    Reviewed by Bronwyn Bevan

    Exploratorium, San Francisco, California, USA

    What is learning anyway? is a statement we hear frequently in museum circles.People working from a paradigm where learning is equated with factual recall oftenfind themselves disclaiming learning as a goal of museums. People working froma paradigm where learning is understood as expanding forms of participation1 aremore comfortable arguing for the contributions museums make to learning. But eventhen, as with most important dimensions in life, one needs to examine the longueduree to establish how museum experiences shape perspectives over time. Culturally,professionals in both formal and informal settings are hampered by the short focallength lens we apply to learning (a lens most of us set aside when making choicesfor ourselves and our loved ones). We need a wider lens with a longer focal length tounderstand and demonstrate learning, no matter where the setting.2

    But lets begin with the premise that learning happens because we see it all aroundus every day! Deborah Perrys interesting, accessible, and highly useful book, WhatMakes Learning Fun?, provides insights into how museums can design and evaluatefor learning.

    Perry begins the book with a description of three different adultchild groups atthe same science museum exhibit, Colored Shadows. Each of the experiences, whichtook place at different times but at the same museum, was extremely different. In onecase the parent and child were confused. In another they were frustrated. In a thirdit all worked beautifully. The third visitor group had fun. The other two expresseddisappointment.

    In the first case neither the adult nor the child had the conceptual knowledge tomake sense of what was happening. In the second case the parent (a physicist) did nothave the pedagogical strategies to engage his son with the phenomena. In the third(successful) case the adult was a drama teacher with a working knowledge of coloredlights (through theater technology) as well as experience in interactional teaching.Perry takes the position that rather than assuming that the first two parentchildpairs were somehow lacking, or that all visitors need to come to the museum withboth content and pedagogical expertise to be successful, we need to develop design

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    solutions that effectively equip all visitors for successful (fun) interactions. She thenprovides concrete strategies for doing so.

    In the first two chapters of the book, Perry provides the theoretical and researchbases for a perspective on learning as entailing expanding forms of participation.These eminently readable chapters will be especially useful to staff who are new tothinking and talking about learning and learning in museums. The rest of the bookexplores the Selinda Model of Visitor Learning, a theoretically grounded analyticaltool Perry has developed to guide design and evaluation of museum experiencesthat aim to provide opportunities for any visitor to have rich, active, and satisfying[codeword: fun] meaning-making, conversation, and interpretation.

    The Selinda Model is organized around three perspectives on the museum visi-tor experience: outcomes, engagements, and motivations. Perry argues that museumdesign and evaluation need to take into account all three: what people take from anexperience, what they do in the experience, and what makes them want to engage inan experience in the first place (and, as she points out, not necessarily in that order).

    The Selinda Model breaks down each of these perspectives into its componentparts. For example, an outcomes perspective is examined in terms of how visitorsmeaning-making, attitudes, identities, and skills are impacted by the experience. Eachof these is described in some detail. An engagement perspective is examined in termsof physical, emotional, intellectual, and social dimensions of the learning experience.A motivations perspective is examined through the constructs of communication,curiosity, confidence, challenge, control, and play. Perry argues that the visitor researchcommunity has traditionally emphasized the outcomes/impacts perspective. Morerecently, she says, discussion has examined an engagement perspective. Here Perryintroduces the motivations perspective, and she unpacks what this means in the thirdsection of the book.

    To illustrate: Perry argues that one of the six factors that motivate engagementis Communicationor a desire for communication (by which I believe she meansan exchange of ideas, through interactions with another person or with an object orexperience). To satisfy the visitors desire for communication, Perry suggests thatmuseums adhere to two design principles: Collaboration and Guidance. Each ofthese design principles is broken down into design strategies. For example, designingfor Collaboration is associated with three strategies, such as Design spaces thatencourage members of visiting social groups to stay together and in close proximity.Some of the strategies are broken down further into techniques. For example, astrategy for achieving the second motivation, Curiosity, is Present incompleteinformation. Techniques include Leave some things unsaid and Use progressivedisclosure. Each of the six motivations, 13 principles, 38 strategies, and 28 techniquesis explicitly grounded in practical examples and theory.

    Many frameworks leave one with as many questions as answers: They often seemeither rigid or arbitrary. But I found Perrys framework and constructs to be extremelypractical, theoretically guided, and reflective of a wealth of experience and wisdom.The Selinda Model is a thoughtful and practical tool for guiding discussion aboutdecisions and choices we make as we design museum experiences. It might also beused to develop theory-based evaluation strategies.

    What Makes Learning Fun? is thought-provoking. For instance, I became interestednot in the question What is learning? but rather What is fun? I read Perrys book on a

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    plane coming home from a multi-generational family vacation during which we wentto 10 museums in 8 days. Some of the especially fanatical among us (not me!) visitedwell into the double digits. Is fun a word I would use for our museum experiences?No, I wouldnt: Fun says too little. Were our experiences (in the aggregate) moving?Yes. Inspiring? Yes. Intriguing? Yes. Edifying? Yes. Mind blowing? Yes, if you askmy son about his experience at the Ishtar Gate in the Pergamon. Did we reconfirmsome fanatical (or shall we say culturally engaged) aspects of our family identity?Most definitely yes.

    Call me a grouch, but I think the word fun does a disservice to our field. I am all forfun if what we mean is pleasureintellectual, emotional, physical, and social. Pleasureis essential to learning because as sentient beings, if it is at all possible, we shut downor turn off what isnt pleasurable. (This happens wherever we are, it has nothing todo with museums per se.) So why do we have to use a word normally associated withplaces like carnivals and theme parksplaces that emphatically distance themselvesfrom learningto describe the work that we do? Is going to Les Miserables fun?Was working out the second law of thermodynamics fun? Is riding the London Eyefun? Of course yes its all fun. But is that the best way to talk about the experience?I think we mean something deeper than the word fun allows and I think we needa better way of talking about our work. I am not nominating pleasure! That hasits own baggage and, at least in the United States, the government would defund usimmediately! But I am suggesting that if we can get better language we will find peoplelistening to us in new ways. Other more formal educational institutions will benefit aswell.

    Perry has written a highly accessible book grounded in both theory and practice.The field will benefit from her expansive view on learning and comprehensive ideasabout design. I have some quibblesfor example with a somewhat contorted align-ment of the Selinda Model with the National Science Foundations (Friedman, 2008)Framework impacts and the National Research Councils (2009) Learning Science inInformal Environments strands (e.g., I dont think you can equate epistemologies withskills, and practices are emphatically not the same as skills). Or with what I thinkis a continuing and culturally biased overemphasis on conversation as a marker ofengagement. (If Vygotsky had lived another 40 years, I argue wed have a much richerunderstanding of symbolic interaction.) Finally, I find the discussion of intrinsic ver-sus extrinsic motivation fundamentally at odds with the Vygotskian perspective thatis invoked throughout the book. But these arguments are for another day. The SelindaModel is an exceedingly useful professional tool for discussion, debate, and design,especially recommended for staff, both veteran and novice, looking for new ways intothinking and talking about learning in museums. What Makes Learning Fun? doesthe museum field a great service by broadening and deepening the conversation aboutour work.

    Notes

    1. Forms of participation include actions such as asking questions, noticing, helping, creating, explaining, leading,and following, as well as larger scale forms of participation such as enrolling in classes, taking up hobbies,and mentoring others. It is understood that one takes on new forms of participation as ones capacities andunderstanding develop. For example, one doesnt ask sophisticated questions, or mentor others, unless one has agrasp of the relevant issues.

    2. My colleague physicist Thomas Humphrey tells me there is no such thing. Sigh.

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    REFERENCES

    Friedman, A. (Ed.) (2008, March 12). Framework for evaluating impacts of informal science educationprojects. Retrieved from http://caise.insci.org/uploads/docs/Eval Framework.pdf

    National Research Council. (2009). Learning science in informal environments: People, places, andpursuits. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

    ABOUT THE REVIEWER

    Bronwyn Bevan, Ph.D., is Associate Director of Program at the Exploratorium. Address correspondence to:Bronwyn Bevan, Exploratorium, Pier 15, San Francisco, CA 94111. E-mail: bronwynb@exploratorium.edu.

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