When I ask museum-goers why they visit museums, learning comes up fairly often. But for whom is rather important.
In my 2017 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers, the majority of regular visitors to art and history museums are thinking about their own learning opportunities. But less than one in five regular visitors to children's museums or science centers are. The broader public, thinking of museums in general (and if they were to visit one, why), falls in between, at two in five.
Of course, there are lots of reasons for visiting museums. Such as learning opportunities for children ... which is a much stronger motivation for those regular visitors to children's museums and science centers.
But here's the thing. My "why do you visit" question allowed respondents to pick as many choices as they liked. Parents can choose learning for themselves and for their children; one doesn't preclude the other. (There were several other options as well. I'll get to all of them, promise.)
Because that's what driving the difference here. Since the super-majority of regular visitors to children's museums and science centers are parents (primarily of children 10 and younger), we see what I call The Parent Bubble: a large influx of extrinsically-motivated parents who may or may not have any intrinsic motivations for visiting for their own sake. Now, I love that they are seeing museums as a good thing for their kids, but as we'll see in a few weeks, The Parent Bubble presents a lot of challenges for museums.
One more thing. This question was designed to capture those easy-to-articular reasons for visiting museums. But using this answer as an example, it doesn't tell us why they picked museums over other learning opportunities. That takes deeper probing. More to come.
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. In particular, this question is similar to versions fielded by, among other organizations, the Smithsonian's Office of Policy and Analysis, the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture, Visitors Count!, etc.