The effects of learning style on user reactions to museum websites

Paper
Helen Petrie, UK , Cagla Seneler,

Museum websites are becoming important learning resources, whether for students studying for a particular course (formal learning), or visitors interested in a particular exhibit following up on what they have seen (informal learning). Museum website developers are clearly endeavouring to provide information for a diverse range of learning situations, with interesting and easy to use presentation of material.  One aspect of the situation that museum web developers may well not have considered is the differing “learning styles” of users of their websites. Learning style is a concept widely used in education, although it is not without controversy.  But it is clear that some people prefer to learn in different ways, for example some people learn better with information presented as pictures and diagrams (Visual learners), whereas others learn better from reading text  (Verbal learners).

To investigate this area, we undertook a study of how people with different learning styles react to different kinds of material on museum websites. The Felder-Solomon model of learning styles was chosen for a number of reasons, firstly because it is well established in educational circles and secondly because it is easy to assess an individual’s learning style with a short free online questionnaire (available at: www.engr.ncsu.edu/learningstyles/ilsweb.html).  The Felder-Solomon model proposes four dimensions of learning style: Visual/Verbal, Active/Reflective, Sensing/Intuitive and Sequential/Global.  The Visual/Verbal dimension has been illustrated above. Active learners like to do things with information to learn and retain it, whereas Reflective learners  prefer just to think about the information.  Sensing learners like facts and well-established methods whereas Intuitive learners like abstractions and discovering relationships and possibilities. Finally, Sequential learners like to work in a linear sequence of logical steps, whereas Global learners like to see the big picture first and then fill in the details (for a full explanation of these dimensions, see http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/ILSdir/styles.htm).

146 university students were asked to undertake a number of typical information seeking tasks on two museum websites (British Museum – www.britishmuseum.org/ and Wellcome Collection – www.wellcomecollection.org/); the tasks were constructed so that they would lead the participants to pages with different kinds of materials which would suit people with different learning styles. After using each website, participants answered the Index of Learning Styles to assess where they are on the Felder-Solomon learning style dimensions and a set of questions that assessed their reactions both to the website as a whole for user experience and usability and to particular aspects of the presentation of information on the website.  Results showed that people with different learning styles were significantly more attracted to different aspects of the websites.  For example, Active participants preferred large images Visual participants preferred pages with lots of images, Sensing participants preferred concrete examples of concepts, whereas Intuitive participants preferred abstract discussions.

The paper will consider the implications of these results and present guidelines for how museum websites can organize their website material to be attractive and useful to visitors with differing learning styles.

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