Children's Museum Research Network
The Children's Museum Research Network (CMRN) was created in 2015 with funding from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services. Its goal is to collectively develop a sustainable infrastructure for generating actionable, cross-institutional research results to advance the field-wide priorities established in the Learning Value of Children's Museums Research Agenda.
The Association of Children's Museums and the University of Washington's Museology Graduate Program are partners in leading CMRN. An original cohort of ten children's museums was selected for their ongoing research and evaluation efforts. These ten museums have been instrumental in developing the Network and initiating research studies. An additional five museums joined the Network in September 2017. The participating institutions are:
Research Study 1: Learning Frameworks
The Network's first study focused on learning frameworks with learning frameworks being defined as the educational standards and/or outcomes by which museums guide the development of exhibits and programs. The study analyzed learning frameworks from five Network museums. Analysis was guided by the following research questions:
- What major vocabularies do the frameworks share? Where do they diverge?
- What constructs do children's museums use and prioritize in the learning frameworks?
- What learning theories do these frameworks implicitly and explicitly reflect or endorse?
The Network completed a document review of each of the five frameworks and interviews with key staff at the museums to develop a deeper understanding of how their institutional beliefs have been reflected in the learning frameworks' development and use. Analysis of the data revealed three key themes: learning approaches, learning outcomes, and the role of play in each of the learning frameworks. Dissemination of the research study results include:
- What's the Buzz about Learning Frameworks webinar, September 26, 2017
- "Application and Adaptation of an Institutional Learning Framework," Journal of Museum Education, May 8, 2017
- Creating a Learning Framework: How to Get Started, InterActivity session, May 4, 2017
- Presentation slides (see Infographic of themes identified in study, slide 3)
- Building a Children's Museum Research Network, Hand to Hand, Vol. 30, No 1, Spring 2016. Articles include:
- "How Learning Frameworks Reflect Learning Theory in the Children's Museum Field," pp. 5-7.
- "Perspectives on Learning Outcomes," pp. 8-9.
- "How Do Children's Museums Talk about Play?," pp. 10-12.
- "Analyzing Learning Frameworks in Children's Museums," Project Spotlight, InformalScience.org, September 1, 2016
Research Study 2: The Value of Play in Children's Museums
The Network's first research study on Learning Frameworks revealed variation in how individual museums emphasize play, defined play, and described the connections between play and learning. For these reasons, the Network decided to focus on play for its second research study. The Network interviewed senior education and exhibits staff from a representative sample of 48 children's museums across the U.S., asking each participant to describe their institution's perspectives on play.
- How do children's museums position themselves and their work around play?
- Visibility & role of play in mission statement
- Definitions of play used by museum internally
- Beliefs about the connections between play and learning
- Benefits of play
- Measures of play
Study findings indicated that while many children's museum staff strongly value play, few have formal descriptions of what play means or how play supports learning in their institutions. Dissemination of the research study results include:
- Getting Serious About the Value of Play in Children's Museums, InterActivity session, May 4, 2017
- "Exploring the Learning Value of Children's Museums Through a Research Network," UpNext Blog, Institute of Museum and Library Services, February 9, 2017
- "Play and Children's Museums: A Path Forward or a Point of Tension?" Curator The Museum Journal, January 2017
- CMRN Research Study 2: The Value of Play in Children's Museums. Analysis slide deck, November, 2016.
- Play Is...Recent Research Findings and Their Application, InterActivity session, May 16, 2018
- Play Is...Recent Research Findings and Their Application, August 28, 2018
Research Study 3: Caregivers Understanding of Learning in Children's Museums
The Network's third research study is intended to gain a better understanding of what parents/caregivers learn about their children during a visit to a children's museum. Eight CMRN member museum asked their visitors to participate in online questionnaires during July-September 2017. A total of 223 visitors responded to the surveys. This study is guided by the following research questions:
- What do parents/caregivers learn about their children from their children's museum experience?
- What is it about the children's museum experience that parents/caregivers feel contributes to that learning?
Study findings indicated that most parents/caregivers did observe their child(ren) learning during their visit to a children's museum and were able to identify different types of learning they observed. The study also revealed indications on the uniqueness of learning in a children's museum. A follow-up interview was conducted in January 2018 in order to further understand the value of the observed learning to the parent/caregiver during their children's museum visit. Dissemination of the research study results include:
- CMRN Research Study 3: Caregivers Understanding of Learning in Children's Museums. Analysis slide deck. January 2018.
- CMRN Research Study 3: Follow-up Interview Results. March 2018.
- Exploring Parent and Caregiver Perceptions of Learning in Children's Museums, InterActivity Session, May 17, 2018.
- Children’s Museum Research Network: A Case Study in Collaborative Research, Visitor Studies Association Conference Session, July 20, 2017.
Research Study 4: Children's Social-Emotional Development
The Network will continue to investigate the learning value of children's museums as it conducts it's fourth research study during the Summer of 2018. Specifically this study is intended to provide a better understanding of how children's museums contribute to the social and emotional growth of children. Observations of a child's behavior during a visit to a children's museums will be conducted. The Network has decided to use the Minnesota Preschool Affect Checklist (MPAC) observation tool to record their findings.
More to come!