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published: March 2004
Session: Not Just Virtual
People developing museum websites need to avoid replicating traditional museums and creating sites that take little account of how people learn. In developing the British Galleries, the Victoria and Albert Museum identified eight audience types and their needs and four learning styles and used these to audit ideas for interpretation. 'Variety' became a key to ensuring people with a wide range of backgrounds, needs and preferred learning styles found something they could relate to in the new galleries. We now wish to apply some of the lessons learnt in developing the British Galleries to the development of the V&A website, although lack of research in the way people use museum websites to learn about objects is an obstacle.
The V&A website needs more than simply collections information on the site. Using interactivity (where visitors have the power to influence outcome) and participation (where visitors can feel involved) can broaden the base of people who feel that the website has something for them that fits in with their own needs and learning styles. One means of creating variety and balance within the interactivity on the site is to provide a range of activity relating to a continuum that runs from the museum as expert through to putting the visitor in the role of expert.
Examples are taken from the V&A website showing how different part of the site work. Some activities occur solely on the website and others have been generated as a combination of gallery activity and web activity. Some of the most successful events have been those where both museum and visitor have offered expertise. Other seemingly frivolous events have generated levels of creativity, commitment and enthusiasm entirely appropriate to the aims of the museum. We need to do more research and welcome collaboration with others to increase the variety of activity on our site.