This research release is a continuation of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations and Museums: Part I, and is rooted in my recent research, including the 2017 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers and broader population samples I ran in the fall of 2016 and spring of 2017.
People visit museums for lots of reasons. We all know that. And when we ask visitors why they visit, there are a few reasons that come up often. They visit for family time. Because they want to see something at the museum. For fun. For learning experiences. To bring out of town guests. And so on.
What visitors don't say are things like "I have a strong intrinsic motivation to learn." Or "I don't really like museums, but I think it is important for my kids to come to get a leg up on school." (As you'll see as my research unfolds, both valid reasons for visiting, though I am admittedly giving extreme examples.)
Yet the difference between these two reasons, and others I am uncovering, are huge. Especially, around impact, which I'll discuss in a future research release.
To begin to sort through all of this, and why it matters to museums, let's step back and focus on breaking down the population so that we have a sense of how it plays out overall. I'll include comments on how it affects museum visitation.
First, as I mentioned in an earlier research release, motivations around learning are not a zero-sum game. Even the most intrinsically motivated person likely has extrinsic motivations for learning (such as making a living). And there's a good chunk of the population that is intrinsically motivated at some level, but extrinsic motivations are stronger. But generally, I think it is fair to break down the population this way:
Broadly, that means three segments of the population.
1. Extrinsically motivated, reactive. Two sub-groups are in this group:
2. Extrinsically motivated, proactive. Individuals that place a value on learning, even a very high value on learning, but primarily as a means to an end to reach one or more goals in their life. And they are proactive about it through both formal education and informal means. So going to college to get a good job. Training programs for a better job that can better support a family. Learning to fit in with a social group. Learning to gain approval (such as that of a parent). And so on. Learning isn't necessarily their favorite thing to do (we could probably put it in the same category as vegetables and exercise; good for you, ok to do, but not necessarily relished by many). But these individuals have good, even excellent reasons for actively seeking out learning, and do so when those learning opportunities meet their needs. That can mean museums, whether sporadically, casually, or often (indeed, some of our most avid museum-goers are highly extrinsically motivated). But if museums are not meeting their needs, there is no reason to visit (as you'll see, this is a HUGE issue). My estimate for this segment of the population? About 50% - 60%.
Note: Some of the extrinsically motivated, proactive learners may also have rather strong intrinsic motivations around learning. For some, in certain subject areas they enjoy. For others, generally. What I'm looking at is their overall motivations around learning, and for this category, those individuals who are more extrinsically motivated than intrinsically motivated.
3. Intrinsically motivated, proactive. Individuals who love to learn for its own sake. Who find learning pleasurable, enlightening, relaxing (in psychological terms, having a "high need for cognition"). Highly curious individuals. These individuals seek out learning opportunities often because they like to think. They read for pleasure (including literary fiction, nonfiction). And they are the biggest fans of museums. Museum-going happens for them throughout their lifetimes, regardless of the presence of children in their lives (a distinction that matters). In fact, I think it is fair to say that museums have cornered this market. My estimate for this segment of the population? I have 6% in my research notes, but let's estimate 5%, maybe slightly higher.
Now, there is an important issue here we can't ignore. Valuing learning primarily for its own sake more than for extrinsic economic reasons may be related to class … and an assumption that the good job will come with it. Thus, socio-economic status, capacity (time, money, energy) to pursue learning, and also race and ethnicity all affect learning motivations. That tricky dissection is coming in my next research release.
Additionally, I want to go back to something I just said about the intrinsically motivated. That we've "cornered this market." That's really important because it means that since they already know us, love us, and seek us out. There is no potential audience growth here, and our marketing really doesn't matter to them because they are actively searching us out anyway. But at only about a twentieth of the population, they can't sustain museums (and nor would we want to serve only them, obviously).
No, our focus needs to be on extrinsically motivated, proactive individuals, which is the segment of greatest potential growth. They put a high value of learning, and thus we are well-positioned to serve them well. But only if we present our value on their terms, meeting their needs. Some extrinsically motivated individuals (primarily parents of young children) inherently get this, and visit museums regularly. But most don't find the value of museums to be worth it (as much as it pains me to write that). You'll be hearing a lot more about this in the coming weeks.
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.