British Museum: Digital Learning


Sponsor: British Museum British Museum photo
Sponsor Liaison: Jane Findlay
Student Team: Emily Aldrich, Kyle Bessette, Preston Mueller, Meghana Prakash
Abstract: The British Museum designed a prototype digital learning tool intended for non-UK
English learning students. Our goal was to evaluate the tool on its ability to engage and educate its users through surveys, teacher interviews, and student observation. We also compared the tool to digital resources from other museums in London. We ultimately recommended that the British Museum continue pilot tool research and development, and advised approaches by which the Museum could improve the tool.
Link: Final report (British Museum report)
Final presentation (British Museum presentation)

Executive Summary

Educational systems have increasingly adopted technology as it has advanced over time.
Museums have sought ways to improve their visitors’ experiences by adapting interactive
technology into their exhibits. By including technology in exhibits, museums appeal to a large
group of digitally literate people, including student visitors who respond well to interactive
learning environments. The British Museum is investigating how to enhance the visitor
experience of a very specific audience—international student school groups. The British
Museum administration believes that developing a digital tool intended for this group of students
may improve the value of some museum exhibits. Our research team evaluated the museum’s
prototype tool for its effectiveness in enhancing the visitor experience of these international

Evaluating informal types of educational tools such as digital learning tools requires a
deep understanding of general learning theory. Appealing to students’ emotions may be a key
component in reaching the international student visitors. Drago et al. (2014) describes an effort
in the United Kingdom to teach materials related to the collections and missions of various
institutions, such as the Tower of London and the Museum of London, to groups of students
from multiple cultures. Drago’s research shows that the highest rate of success comes when
students form a personal connection to the material, as it helps them with the retention of
information (Drago et al., 2014).

Although interactive activities take many forms, their principal goal is to engage learners
during the learning process. In a study conducted on the use of mobile applications, researchers
discovered that students using a mobile-based application performed better than students who
used paper-based learning materials (Mikalef et al., 2012). This study showed that interactivity in
digital tools such as mobile-based applications (as compared with more traditional, paper-based
interaction) reinforces student learning in museums.

As digital learning technologies become increasingly accessible to the public, there is an
increased demand around the world for cross-cultural programming. The British Museum is the
fourth most popular museum in the world, with over six million visitors per year, most of whom
are international visitors. These visitors primarily travel from other European nations and
currently make up over 40% of the annual visitors (British Museum, 2015). The British Museum
recognizes the importance of integrating digital technology into its physical exhibits to ensure
the continued engagement of young, international audiences.

This project evaluated the effectiveness of a pilot digital learning tool developed by the
British Museum designed to educate and engage visiting international students. Our team
focused on students who were at equivalent educational levels as British key stages three to five,
13 to 18 years of age. We then used the results of our evaluation to formulate recommendations
that helped the organisation improve the tool and better understand its audience. To accomplish
the overarching project goal, we executed the following set of objectives:

1. Determine the effect of English proficiency on how much information the pilot test
subjects’ retained

2. Determine the educational value of the digital learning tool

3. Assess the engagement and enjoyment of visitors using the digital learning tool

4. Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the use of similar resources in other

To relate English proficiency with students’ educational experience with the digital tool,
we collected basic information from English-learning, international students visiting the British
Museum. We administered paper surveys to target audience groups after their visit (Appendices
C and D). The staff at the British Museum also requested that we collect information on age,
gender, and nationality, to guide their efforts in designing tools for international student visitors.
Interviews with group leaders helped us understand the overall demographic data for the group
and their opinions of the digital tool. The staff of the British Museum also requested that our
team inform them of what teachers expected their students to gain from their experience at the
museum to ensure the tool met these expectations in the future.

Our team sought to determine if the digital tool was effective at educating its users. For
the tool to educate, it needed to facilitate the retention of information. We investigated whether
tool users retained more information about the museum than non-users, and if the tool
substantially assisted English language learning students in their visit. We collected data for this
component using two methods. The primary method we used to obtain quantitative data was the
survey, which we administered to users and non-user groups. The first part of our survey
consisted of demographical questions. Additional sections of the survey pertinent to education
included questions about the museum and its exhibits. We designed these questions to evaluate
memory. This data allowed for two important categories of comparisons: the first between
survey results of individuals in user groups compared to the control groups, and the second
between the users’ survey scores and their English proficiency (Appendices C and D). The
second technique we used in evaluating the digital learning tool on its educational capabilities
was interviewing. This method provided critical information about the tool and its contents. We
interviewed teachers about the tool to learn how, as educators, they felt it functions. We asked
them about expectations for their visit to understand what they wanted the tool to accomplish.
Additionally, we asked them how helpful they believed the tool was to their students, and how
much it contributed to their goals for their students while visiting the museum.

In addition to evaluating the educational value of the digital learning tool, our team also
investigated to what extent the tool could engage international student visitors and provide an
enjoyable experience. Engagement is the intellectual investment of attention and curiosity into
the matter at hand. Enjoyment, similarly, is the state of taking pleasure from an experience. The
primary method for evaluating students’ engagement and enjoyment during tool use was survey
questions (Appendices C and D). Group observation was our qualitative secondary method. We
conducted observation of student groups when groups used the digital tool, and when group
leaders permitted us to do so. We based our observations on a set of pre-defined engagement and
enjoyment criteria.

Our team also evaluated digital learning applications at similar institutions. We visited
Tate Modern, the Museum of London, the Science Museum, and the National History Museum.
We tested the digital interactive media of these museums to observe their functions and how
such functions compare to the functions of the British Museum’s prototype. This comparison was
important because it allowed us to provide strong recommendations based on real examples.
With surveys, our team determined if there was a connection between respondents’ selfranked
English proficiency and their scores on the survey. There were two unique groups, based
on the type of experience the students received: the tool user group and the control group. We
found that the average English proficiency for users was 3.15 whereas the average English
proficiency for the control group was 2.67. There was a limited amount of data available for the
user group, including a lack of any data for level one English proficiency users. However, all
level two, three, and four users averaged approximately the same score, regardless of English
proficiency. Additionally, we collected basic demographic information, such as the age, home
country, school program type, as well as other information relevant to our analysis, such as the
length of the museum visit, and smartphone ownership. Survey data showed that students were
primarily between 13 and 16 years old. Over 50% of participants came from France, while others
came from Spain, Germany, Belgium, Austria, and South Korea. Approximately 57% of groups
were part of an English learning program. Most groups planned to spend approximately an hour
and a half in the museum. From the survey, we found that over 97% of the students owned
smartphones with almost 97% of students with a smartphone using it for at least an hour each
day (Appendix E).

We hypothesized that the digital learning tool designed by the staff at the British Museum
significantly increased the information retention of users over non-users. In order to test this
hypothesis, we carried out a number of analyses. We first compared survey scores on the
education component of the survey between users and non-users. Second, we compared the
frequency of visitation for featured exhibits between users and non-users to determine if users
retained facts about featured exhibits more than non-users. Third, we compared the favourite
exhibits of users and non-users to show whether the digital tool made featured exhibits more
memorable than other exhibits. The user groups had a higher average performance than the nonuser
groups. Users had an average score that was 172% of the non-users’ average score. Students
who used the tool visited an average of 85% of exhibits listed, while non-users visited an average
of 60% of the tool’s featured exhibits. We also found that 55% of users answered with an exhibit
featured on the tool when asked what their favourite exhibit was, while fewer than 25% of nonusers
answered with an exhibit featured on the tool. This data strongly supports that the tool had
an effect on which exhibits participants remember.

We conducted an evaluation of whether the British Museum’s pilot learning tool engaged
students and provided them with an enjoyable experience as they visited exhibits. In order to
investigate whether or not the pilot learning tool engaged students, we looked for differences
between the behaviors of users and non-users. Observers who followed groups through exhibits
noticed unique behavior from control and user groups. Students using the tool often appeared
more directed and purposeful as they went from one exhibit to the next, while student groups
without the tool sometimes appeared fragmented and uncertain.
When gathering population samples for participation in our study, we had to ensure that
their participation was voluntary. While this practice was important in maintaining ethical
conduct, it did present problems. With many groups having set schedules, guided tours, and
limited time, it was difficult to convince a large group of students and teachers to participate in a
potentially time-consuming study. We found that approximately 50% of the groups we
approached agreed to participate in the study as either a control or experimental group. Although
there are many groups that can use the tool, the British Museum’s challenge is to promote and
distribute the tool effectively.

While trying to collect data, we had difficulty finding appropriate groups. Many leaders
said they would have considered using the tool if they had known about it before arriving at the
museum. It would have replaced their own learning resources. Our first recommendation is to
have the British Museum’s website advertise the digital tool in the school group section, to
ensure teachers know the tool exists. They may also then download it on their mobile devices
before arriving. The second is to hang official posters or banners throughout the museum. Lastly,
we recommend the museum establish a permanent station dedicated to this tool near the
entrance, similar to the station dedicated to families. This would help school group leaders know
that the British Museum sponsors the tool, and that the tool is free to use as a part of the group’s
museum visit.

Many students who found that their phones were incompatible with the British Museum’s
wireless internet network were unable to participate in tool testing. We recommend that the
museum investigate its wireless connectivity and consider eliminating the sign-up page that
requires visitors to fill in personal information. If the British Museum’s wireless network did not
require login, more students may be able to connect to the network without issue.
While the majority of students using the tool found the in-tool maps to be accessible and
properly guide them to exhibits, we received informal feedback that the maps were less helpful
than some would have preferred, most often due to display size issues. The British Museum
should consider providing a pop-up map feature where the device’s entire screen displays the
map, so it is as large as possible, or consider adding a more interactive guide feature where
students select their current location, and the tool provides navigation. Students, through surveys,
and teachers in their interviews said they would prefer to have additional exhibits added to the

Our team visited museums in London to determine the advantages and disadvantages of
using various types of digital tools. These institutions implemented interactive tools such as
games, interactive displays, and mobile applications for student visitors. The most viable
alternative to the current tool is distribution of tablets or smartphones with the program already
loaded. The museum could establish a system to distribute the digital tool to school groups in
this manner. This system would maintain the mobility of the tool, and preserve its original
benefits. In summary, we recommend that the British Museum continue tool development. While
we identified issues with its implementation, we also found that it was effective in engaging
students and helping them learn about exhibits.