As I shared earlier, The Parent Bubble is comprised primarily of extrinsically-motivated parents. That is, their extrinsic motivations for learning overall outweigh their intrinsic motivations.
Intrinsically-motivated parents are the opposite. They may have very strong extrinsic motivations for learning (likely), but that is outweighed by their intrinsic motivations.
Because of this, they approach learning, and museums, differently. Unlike extrinsically-motivated parents, they probably kept going to museums when they were in middle and high school themselves, and as young adults without children. Now that they have children, they keep going to museums.
Including art and history museums. Perhaps primarily art and history museums. Special interest museums too. They are more omnivorous in their museum-going habits than extrinsically-motivated parents.
That is, like extrinsically-motivated parents, having children changed their museum-going habits. But instead of going from casual or non-visitation to regular visitation, intrinsically-motivated parents simply added on children's museums, zoos, and science centers to their usual repertoire of regular museum visits. (Natural history museums seem to do a relatively good job of engaging both families and adults without children, but I don't have enough data right now to make more definitive statements about them; next year, perhaps.)
So when intrinsically-motivated parents take their kids to a museum, they appear to be just as likely to visit an art or history museum because they like them, and they hope their children will too. Thus, parents of young children who visit art and history museums are about as likely to cite their own reasons for visiting (learning opportunities, curiosity, interest) as they are to cite the needs of their children (learning opportunities, fun, etc.).
That mindset makes all the difference, as the parents are more personally interested in the content, and thus engaged with the visit. This has a few outcomes:
But there is something important for us to remember. Intrinsic or extrinsic motivations around learning are not a fixed state. As you can see in the graphic below (which I've shared before), most people have different levels of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. While I'm making generalizations based on overall motivation, it can change depending on the museum, the exhibit, or the mood.
That is, present the right content in the right way, and an extrinsically-motivated parent may become interested and curious for their own sake. After all, there are a fair number of individuals that are strongly intrinsically motivated, but overall have an even stronger extrinsic motivation
And even the most intrinsically-motivated parent isn't intrinsically motivated all the time. My daughter has a specific history museum she loves to visit, and after multiple visits, I can tell you that I am no longer intrinsically motivated to visit. But I suppose you can say my extrinsic motivation to cultivate my daughter's intrinsic motivation has me there. Regularly. (Too regularly?)
Which is all to say that it's the product. If we want to pop that Parent Bubble in a way that retains families as kids grow older, we have to do better with the product.
Children's museums and science centers have to do a better job of engaging adult interests, going beyond the traveling exhibitions that do draw more adult audiences. Engage that captive audience. Perhaps learn more from what art and history museums do, borrow more objects that tell science stories as well, and build meaning by exploring our humanity in more thoughtful ways.
And art and history museums. Just because more meaning-making happens in these museums does not let them off the hook. If they want to be perceived as age appropriate for younger children, they actually have to be more age appropriate. That doesn't meaning changing everything (and likely turning off adult audiences), but it could mean turning to local children's museum and science center peers to develop better ways to engage younger visitors.
Because I believe that if museums drew on each other's strengths, we can build audiences for all museums more effectively and more meaningfully, thus delivering more impact, and being more valued in our communities.
Speaking of which. Intrinsically-motivated parents were significantly more engaged in their local communities, exhibiting deeper perceived connections and more concerns, than extrinsically-motivated parents. Now this is a chicken-and-egg scenario, but perhaps the greater exposure to others that intrinsically-motivated individuals have contributes to healthier communities. And museums may play a role in developing that understanding and interest at a young age (see my series on the value of museums for a bit more). Which leads to where my research is taking me next: museums and community.
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.