Two UCL graduate students undertook a study of whether visitors retain more information about museum collections when they use digital tools to assist their learning. The study methodology was simple: they provided one group of visitors with a paper-based tour of the museum and another group with a tour that included using a range of digital tools (a 3D computer based exhibition, iPad app that allows visitors to leave comments about objects and QR code-based object labels). A quiz was given to each group at the end of the tour. An excerpt from the findings is below:
No dramatic differences were discovered upon reviewing the results of the quizzes of individuals who had taken the paper-based and those who had participated in the digital-based tour. For three questions, the number of people who answered correctly only differed by one person. For the other three questions, the number of correct answers for people who had taken the paper-based tour exceeded the number of those who had taken the digital tour by two or more, with the most difference being four more people who had taken the paper-based tour answering correctly. Upon calculating the average percentages of correct vs. incorrect answers for both the paper and digital tours, it was found that users who took the paper-based tours scored an average of 55% on the quiz, while those who took the digital tour scored an average of 48%.
Interesting, yet disappointing result for those of us managing and developing new digital tools in a museum context. Dispite the digital tools providing visitors with a mode of engaging with objects (for example, the 3D exhibition allows visitors to manipulate objects using the mouse), this engagement did not facilitate the retention of information about the object. The outcome is similar to other studies:
French Internet research company Miratech has published research on how users interact with media presented in a physical printed newspaper versus an iPad.[i] They used eye-tracking technology to discover how participants approached each medium and then tested their memories to identify differences in information retention. Participants were already iPad users, and thus didn’t have any difficulty working with the device. The study found that newspaper readers finished articles slightly quicker than iPad readers, who were more likely to skim content rather than to read it fully. The newspaper readers also retained more information, remembering 90% of what they read on paper compared to 70% of iPad readers.
A study at Arizona State University also found that students retain information better in print format versus digital format.[ii] Two groups of students, 20 individuals each, wrote essays after reading materials in either the print-like form or digital format which required scrolling through the material. Those given the digital/scrolling versions to read had poorer comprehension of the material.
Given these results, where do we go with digital tools in museums? Should museums think of digital tools as simply eye-catching toys that add some fun to the museum experience? Or do we simply need to be more clever in how we construct digital tools to ensure information is provided in a digestable fashion. My thought is that future versions of the digital tools at the Petrie will not only give visitors the ability to engage with the object but with information provide. Off the top of my head, I could image the next version of our 3D computer based exhibition being a sort of “choose your own adventure” that would take learning in different directions based on choices and decisions made by users drawing knowledge they have picked up along the way. Just an idea.
[i] Rowinski, Dan. “Study – iPads Inferior to Newspapers in Information Retention – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 20 May 2011. Web. 04 July 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/external/readwriteweb/2011/05/20/20readwriteweb-study-ipads-inferior-to-newspapers-in-infor-90014.html?partner=rss>.
[ii] Laster, Jill. “Students Retain Information in Print-Like Formats Better – Wired Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education.” Home – The Chronicle of Higher Education. Web. 04 July 2011. <http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/students-retain-information-in-print-like-formats-better/22088>.