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What Makes Learning Fun?

Principles for the Design of Intrinsically Motivating Museum Exhibits

Deborah L. Perry

Although much has been written in recent years on what museum visitors actually experience, there is little research-backed guidance available for developing meaningful exhibits and programs for specific educational purposes. Deborah Perry looks at what we know about the experiences of people in museums and other informal learning settings, and then shares a set of tested principles and strategies—known as the Selinda Model—for the design of effective museum exhibits. Along the way, she showcases examples of both effective and ineffective exhibit designs drawn from two decades of work in the field. « less more »
AltaMira Press
Pages: 256
978-0-7591-0884-4 • Hardback • May 2012 • $76.00 • (£49.95)
978-0-7591-0885-1 • Paperback • May 2012 • $35.00 • (£23.95)
978-0-7591-2128-7 • eBook • May 2012 • $33.00 • (£22.95)
Deborah L. Perry is the director of Selinda Research Associates in Chicago. She specializes in research on and evaluation of the museum visitor experience.
List of Strategies
List of Figures


PART I: Understanding Visitor Experiences
1. Visitors, Conversation, and Learning
2. Interpretive Activism
3. The Selinda Model of Visitor Learning

PART II: Designing Visitor Experiences
4. Communication
Principle 1: Collaboration
Principle 2: Guidance

5. Curiosity
Principle 3: Perceptual Curiosity
Principle 4: Intellectual Curiosity
Principle 5: Interest

6. Confidence
Principle 6: Success
Principle 7: Expediency

7. Challenge
Principle 8: Expectations
Principle 9: Uncertainty

8. Control
Principle 10: Choice
Principle 11: Power

9. Play
Principle 12: Imagination
Principle 13: Sensory Exploration

Appendix A: Descriptions of the Colored Shadows and The Color Connection Exhibits
Appendix B: Overview of Original Research
Appendix C: The What Makes Learning Fun? Framework
Appendix D: Sample Knowledge Hierarchies

About the Author

Deborah L. Perry has taken a fresh look at an old question—how visitors learn in museums—and given us a set of very practical strategies and tools for designing exhibits. This is no ordinary how-to guide, however. One of the great strengths of the book is that it is grounded in a whole history of solid research. Making learning fun is serious business, but Perry manages to practice what she preaches, giving us a book that is engaging, easy to use, and eminently applicable to museum work today.
Lisa Roberts, Independent Consultant for Museums

The Selinda Model of visitor learning provides a powerful, robust, and flexible construct for considering and facilitating learning that is useful for the ambitious and often nuanced aspirations of professionals working in informal learning environments. I’ve followed the development of Deborah Perry’s ideas and her model of learning for decades and am thrilled that I can finally share her ideas with colleagues and students.
Kris Morrissey, University of Washington

Deborah Perry’s book offers a coherent approach to designing engaging learning experiences in museums, science centers, zoos, and the like. The book lays out a clear design process and offers, within this design framework, a series of applied principles that are well supported in the visitor studies literature. Deborah’s years of experience in combination with thoughtful analysis of the learning process have resulted in a useful manual for practitioners, be they educators, exhibit designers, or evaluators.
Stephen Bitgood, Jacksonville State University

Deborah Perry's interesting, accessible, and highly useful book, What Makes Learning Fun?, provides insights into how museums can design and evaluate for learning. ... What Makes Learning Fun? is thought-provoking. ... Perry has written a highly accessible book grounded in both theory and practice. The field will benefit from her expansive view on learning and comprehensive ideas about design. . . . The Selinda Model is an exceedingly useful professional tool for discussion, debate, and design, especially recommended for staff, both veteran and novice, looking for new ways into thinking and talking about learning in museums. What Makes Learning Fun? does the museum field a great service by broadening and deepening the conversation about our work.
Visitor Studies

[T]he greatest strength of the book is its focus on application of the principles. Each of the six chapters in Part Two addresses one of the motivations listed along the base of the Selinda model and provides strategies for implementing each principle. ... As she presents each new principle or strategy, she revisits the earlier cited exhibit redesign and discusses how her redesign employed that principle or strategy. This helps illustrate her ideas, and her explanations are generally very helpful. The inclusion in Appendix A of photos and illustrations of that exhibit before and after the redesign also proves helpful. This book is. . . well written and it is a fairly quick read. ... It was refreshing to read a book in which someone borrowed from instructional design to enhance practice in her field.
Educational Technology

Part I:
• lays down a theoretical foundation and describes the interpretive activism
perspective that underlies the entire book.

• describes the Selinda Model of Visitor Learning

Part II:
• describes in detail the motivations, or What Makes Learning Fun?, framework and outlines its principles and accompanying strategies