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Research on ‘Quality’ in Online Experiences for Museum Users

October 18, 200518 October 2005

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In this report, Barbara Soren explores the characteristics of educational and meaningful online experiences and evaluates a number of virtual museum exhibits based on their ability to engage online visitors.

A virtual museum is defined as having “no real place or space, and its objects and related information can be disseminated all over the world.” People explore a site because it arouses their curiosity. They are “motivated to pursue further learning when complex information is presented in way that is enjoyable and intrinsically rewarding.”

Most physical museums allow a visitor to explore freely, move at their own pace, interact with groups, and expand their own understanding. The report indicates that an online museological experience should be similar, with multiple points of entry, a range of active learning approaches, information presented from different points of view, and the ability to allow users to become involved in online groups if they so desire.

Developers should attempt to design online products that can interact with users in a variety of ways. The author suggests that functional information could be paired with experiential learning games or virtual tours, database exploration and group information exchanges such as user forums or listservs. The integration of multimedia plug-ins can provide richness and depth to a topic.

The report lists some practical factors that influence the quality of online experiences, such as clear navigation, unique content and good partnerships. Based on discussions with virtual museum project managers, the author also developed a list of best practices (both technical and managerial) for those interested in the creation of their own online exhibit. Some examples of these best practices include common vision, consistency, thinking in a virtual rather than physical medium, and having products that are user-focused and useful to online visitors.

Soren also describes a method of quantitatively evaluating online programming called the ‘Engagement Factor’, which takes into account the number of visits made to a site, the number of visitors, and the length of time a user spends on the site. This tool could help managers determine the appeal and relevance of their sites.

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