PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Object-centered learning in science museums
A systematic literature review

Anne Land-Zandstra  

One of the key characteristics of science museums is that they use scientific objects to present and communicate science to the general public. The authentic objects and experiences are often named as one of the important factors of learning in informal environments. Many visitors, especially children, can be overheard asking "Is this real?" However, research about the role authentic objects can play in museum learning, meaning-making, story-telling, or sparking interest has been minimal. Authenticity in the context of science museums can be defined as objects that have evolved in the real world or were produced for certain real-world purposes. An object can be considered authentic for different reasons: a link with history, providing a certain charisma or a sense of wonder, a rare or even unique object, functionality (working properly), or being a natural specimen. Authentic objects can play different roles within the context of science museums. They can serve as the main information carrier, they can provide context, tell a story, inspire wonder, create atmosphere, or they can be used for esthetic reasons. In this systematic literature review we give an overview of peer-reviewed research on the role authentic objects can play in (science) learning in museums. What does object-centered learning in museums look like? What type of learning outcomes are being addressed (knowledge, skills, attitudes, interest, behavior)? How does authenticity play a role in the learning process? In addition, based on these outcomes, a plan for future research will be presented. Understanding the role that authentic objects can play in museum learning will help develop museum experiences that bank on these unique characteristics.

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