I am writing this essay from a place a privilege. To be honest, my life has been one of privilege.
It just didn't occur to me that my survey questions on intrinsic and extrinsic motivations around learning might reflect that privilege. That having an intrinsic motivation to learn might be rooted in class. After all, everyone goes to school, right?
But I was wrong. Naïve. I realize it now.
As I began to analyze the data from the 2017 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers, I started to see patterns that first surprised me, and then made me head slap myself:
And then, when I was hand-coding written-in comments, this:
"Question 21 poses another ridiculous choice: it is easy for me, a well-educated white person, to believe that jobs should be chosen based on self-fulfillment rather than on income, but have you asked this question to many poor or uneducated people?"
That survey respondent was absolutely right … and the same thing goes for reasons to pursue higher education. To say "learn for learning's sake" assumes the job and compensation will be there as well. And that is an assumption many cannot afford to make, as their life experiences has shown them. It is an assumption that comes from privilege.
In theory, having an intrinsic motivation to learn shouldn't have anything to do with socio-economic status (SES), or race, or ethnicity. But when a family is struggling to make ends meet, when work is hard, perhaps unrewarding, and a means to an end for shelter, food, and other necessities, well, it is completely understandable why extrinsic motivations drive learning. It's an illustration of Maslow's hierarchy.
Why? Having (or cultivating) an intrinsic motivation to learn requires resources. Resources of time, energy, and money. Libraries have done amazing work to nurture intrinsic motivations at no cost, but it still takes time and energy to go to the library in the first place. And museums … even more so as we typically take even more time and energy to visit (think transportation, time) and have an admission fee (and transportation costs). Other activities that those with intrinsic motivations enjoy also have relatively high costs of time, energy, and money.
So if museums are really going to matter to more people, and if we want to cultivate an intrinsic motivation to learn, we need to think long and hard about how we are going to accomplish that. Harvard professor of economics Sendhil Mullainathan suggests working proactively to give more children educational tailwinds … as doing so can "solve many otherwise intractable problems" by keeping children in school longer, with the many positive impacts that generates. For museums, that means taking our museum to where those children are, in ways that are welcomed and easy … and fulfilling their family's extrinsic motivations. That likely means more programs in neighborhood health clinics, laundromats, and food banks. More take-home activity kits packed into weekend food backpacks. It also likely means fewer new museum buildings or wings.
Personally, I'm thinking long and hard about how I will use these survey questions in the future. Understanding individual underlying motivations, and whether they are intrinsic and/or extrinsic, is incredibly important for understanding how museums can make a difference in more lives. These questions worked rather well for that purpose, but I'm going to keep testing new questions that I can use to capture the nuance around motivations in more sensitive ways. Your thoughts and advice are welcome.
A note about fielding research. I hold dear the idea that research for the field, about the field, should be shared with the field. But that only works when museums work together to make it possible. Since individual museums are needed to field this work, the survey also benefits participating museums on an individual level by providing benchmark data on visitation rates, motivations, attitudes and preferences, and demographic questions … all of which can then be tracked over time in the future. Participating museums are also allowed to add 1 - 2 custom questions specific to their needs.
Which means if you value this research, want more of it in the coming years, and want to track your own museum's progress over time, please support this work by enrolling your museum in the 2018 Annual Survey of Museum Goers. The fee for 2018 is only $1,000 per museum.
The questions for this survey have been inspired by ongoing conversations within the museum field (who does/does not go to museums, why they do/do not visit, and what that means for communities) and ongoing research in the fields of education and psychology around lifelong learning and intrinsic motivation.
I respectfully acknowledge that I live and work on the traditional lands of the Duwamish people. I thank them for the care of this land, and I endeavor to help museums bring forward a more complete and inclusive history and culture in their work.