Types of Learners

There are many ways of classifying the ways that people learn or assimilate information. In class we discussed one that I had never heard of before, 4MAT. 4MAT separates learners into four groups; 1 innovative learners, 2 analytic learners, 3 common sense learners, 4 dynamic learners. The model that was used also showed variants of “sensing & feeling” (attributing to types 4 and 1)  vs. “thinking” (types 2 and 3) and “doing” (types 4 and 3)  vs. “watching” (types 1 and 2).


While this model shows learning types in reference to leadership types, I think it does a great job of explaining how each types mind processes incoming information and how they favor certain learning styles.

In designing programs and new technology in museums it is important to take these or any learning practices into consideration. Who are the learners that you want to appeal to? Does there need to be someone there to explain how to use the device to someone less intuitive? Is the device intuitive at all? Can you design a device that appeals to all four of these types?

One example of an exhibit that was able to satisfy all four learning types is the Newcomers exhibit at the Grand Rapids Public Museum in Grand Rapids, MI. In one room, specifically, you can step into a young girls room. It appears to be around 2003 and she’s getting ready for her quinceañera, there are posters on the walls and everything is a horrendous shade of lavender. It’s an interesting space to look at, but as you walk through you see her diary sitting out on her bed, and her computer is open. She’s been writing an email to an auntie, her myspace page is up, and AOL Instant Messenger is raging. You can click through each window, or watch the display change over time, the program causes you to think, feel, do and watch.

Making Sense of Experience

In Maria Roussou’s chapter of Museums in a Digital Age, edited by Ross Parry (2010) Learning by Doing and Learning Through Play: an exploration of interactivity in virtual environments for children (2004) she discusses the percentages of retention rates for information. 20% of people will remember something if they see it, 40% of people will remember something if they see and hear it, and 75% of people will remember something if they see, hear, and do it. There are intrinsic motivations for learning through action.

Albert Einstein said, “play is the highest form of research.”

It’s up to us to decide how to define “play”.

Ted Ansbacher in Making Sense of Experience: a model for meaning-making (2013) defines learning as “making sense of experience”.

He discusses the opposing “thought” and “the physical world” and states that the five senses are the interface that allows us to connect the two. The mind seeks to find relationships and patterns, this is inherent. No matter what part a museum plays in trying to influence their visitors experience, ultimately their thoughts and past experiences are going to influence their perception of a space and what they choose to explore while they are in it.

I think that if we choose to implement  new ideas for teaching in such a logical manner we lose sight of the magic or potential for inspiration. The Barnes Museum wouldn’t be nearly as intriguing if everything were organized by region, period, or genre. Dancing Around the Bride at the Philadelphia Museum of Art wouldn’t have inspired so much collaboration in my own work if they had merely placed works near each other or shown only the most famous works and collaborations of the artists. Instead they chose to show the constant back and forth between the friends, written letters challenging each other in other mediums, hand drawn chess sets, and awful pieces that completely failed but had met some competitive challenge.

We can anticipate a reaction, but we can’t expect anything.

Applying Technology in Your Museum

“If your museum lost power, how would that affect the learning experience in the galleries and across programming.” Mike Murawski Embrassing digital mindset in museums (2014)

Technology plays a huge role in the way people learn. We are faced with screens and new devices daily, and are forced to adapt or be left behind. Museums are also in a space of being forced to adapt or be left behind. The trick, I think, is that learning, inspiration, and community building will happen whether there is advanced technology or not.

I’m not suggesting that museums go back to descriptive tags and formal settings, but I think it is important to consider what is necessary or desired. How do we choose what to implement? How do we enhance what already exists? I like to think of it as creating a slow and steady burn instead of dousing a fire with kerosene. Sure! It’s really hot and bright for a second, but then all you are left with are embers and ash.

I really loved this quote from Shelley Bernstein at the Brooklyn Museum, “digital is not the holy grail. It’s a layer.” In discussing her surprising findings on user interaction with a number of apps that they had designed, she found that people just weren’t using them and it threw everyone on her team for a loop. They chose to refocus on locality, stripping away all the unnecessary things that were pulling away time and resources from what museum goers really wanted.

To me, that’s the key; don’t be afraid of failure, and know when to admit defeat. If it’s not working take a step back and revaluate. Just because it’s working for someone else doesn’t mean it has to work for you or your organization. Not everyone can be the Met. Not everyone has to. Do whatever you do, and do it well! Adopt what comes naturally and trust your gut!

Sree Sreenivasan stated it so eloquently in Museums see different virtues in virtual worlds (2014), “rather than hoping for an audience, you can build an audience.”