This week we had the opportunity to go to Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, UT, and learn more about informal learning. Along the way we made sure to have some fun 🙂 Here are some reflections about the experience and the Museum of Natural Curiosity…
Learning is motivated, social, situated, and active. These are the four hallmarks of learning as shared with us by Lorie Millward, curator of curiosity and director of education at Thanksgiving Point’s Museum of Natural Curiosity. With these four ideas in mind, I was anxious to explore the museum for myself and observe others interacting with the exhibits.
Starting with the Seeing exhibit, I was immediately pulled in to start playing with all of the displays because they looked so intriguing. The room was full of different shapes, lights, colors, and displays. There was no particular sequence to follow so I hopped around from one to the next, depending on which was available. At this point the museum had just opened so there was a slow trickle of children and parents coming in meaning less opportunities for observation and more time for exploration. In this particular exhibit I found that many of the games required reading the directions beforehand. Most of the time I walked up to a display and started playing with it in whatever way I found most intuitive. Only after I realized it was not working how I expected would I consult the instructions. I noticed that most of the children would walk up, take a look through the lens or whatever was there, and walk away if it was not engaging right off the bat because they were unable to understand its purpose. Many of them did not get the full effect of what was intended because it was too complex, and they did not read the directions.
I believe this was a limitation in the exhibit, however, I do realize the mission of Thanksgiving Point is transformative family learning so the parents could have stepped in, read the directions, and walked their children through the process. From my observation this tended to happen with parents who seemed to have only one child with them; for parents with more than one child, the older ones would wander around without direct supervision and normally not read the instructions, missing out on part of the display.
The interaction of children with their parents, among themselves, and with the exhibits seemed most fluid in the Rainforest and Water Works exhibits. I thought those were very well designed because the children were able to walk up to a game or display and automatically begin playing. Areas for exploration and learning in these exhibits required less instruction and provided more opportunities for children to figure it out for themselves. Parents also had more flexibility to be an active participant with their children in these areas due to the open space and nature of the displays. I saw much more parent participation in Water Works than any other exhibit which encouraged transformative family learning.
For me personally, I most enjoyed the Seeing exhibit, but it required taking the time to read instructions to understand the purpose of each display. The Kidopolis exhibit felt a bit disjointed because there were so many separate rooms and doors to walk through. I enjoyed some of the individual rooms but did not feel as compelled to stay in that area for very long. I think it had very interesting demonstrations and great information, but the setup was not something that flowed in my opinion.
It was an interesting experience to go to the museum after reading the chapter on informal learning and sitting down with Stephen and Lorie; I had a new perspective going in. For the first time I realized how much planning and designing actually goes in to creating environments of informal learning. As Rossett & Hoffman (2012) point out, informal learning environments that seem so natural and offhand require a lot of planning and designing by professionals. Each exhibit has a purpose, not in the sense that learners should walk away with specific knowledge, but the purpose to inspire their desire to learn. Lorie mentioned harnessing the power of play to stimulate curiosity and encourage the process of inquiry. I noticed the importance of a display being able to attract and engage its participants for learning to occur (Rossett & Hoffman, 2012). If children were able to successfully play with an exhibit, they were engaged and eager to move on to the next part, building upon the experience they just had.
Lorie mentioned that the museum is designed to create experiences. The goal is to activate learning in active and meaningful ways through the learning environment. This touches on two points of the hallmarks of learning – that learning is active and situated. It is the interaction between learner and environmental factors that helps learners create meaning from their experiences (Ertmer & Newby, 2013). During this field trip I finally saw the true purpose and driving force behind informal learning.
Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (2013). Constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 50–72. http://doi.org/10.1002/piq
Rossett, A., & Hoffman, B. (2012). Informal learning. In Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (3rd ed., pp. 169-177). Boston, MA: Pearson.