Why virtual exhibits?

Like museums in the physical world, WebExhibits presents information that is, for the most part, timeless. Yet WebExhibits also demonstrates a radical departure from physical museums, in terms of 24/7 accessibility, adaptation to support multiple learning styles, and cost-effectiveness. As of October 2010, 75% of U.S. households have high-speed Internet access, and virtually all students have Internet access at schools or libraries.

Virtual exhibits are cost effective. It costs only a few pennies to serve a WebExhibits visitor, in contrast with a typical U.S. museum’s cost of $23 per visitor.

The “exhibit” format is trusted. Americans’ mistrust of the news media is at a two-decade high. However, a 2008 IMLS study found that museums evoke consistent, extraordinary public trust among diverse adult users — more than government, commercial, and private individual sources. Virtual exhibits harness that trust with a curated museum-style approach.

Virtual exhibits are popular. In a 2009 study of 150 museum and science center professionals, 88% of respondents said that computer-based exhibits were “popular” to “very popular” with their visitors. This echoes IDEA’s success with the WebExhibits.org online museum.

Experience is more important than factual learning. Virtual exhibits are grounded in an experience-based learning model. Rather than focus directly on what users will learn, our first interest is what users will see and do with the virtual exhibit. Outcomes for the user—cognitive or affective—are a function of that direct experience. Unique outcomes will depend upon the user’s prior experiences and processing skills.


  • Gallup’s poll shows public distrust of mainstream media is at an all-time high of 57%. Further, 48% say the media are too liberal and 15% say they’re too conservative. — http://www.gallup.com/poll/143267/Distrust-Media-Edges- Record-High.aspx — Also, in the 2009 Pew Research Center report, the public showed their lowest opinion of the media’s accuracy and fairness in more than two decades. Just 29% said news media get their facts straight while 63% said news stories are often inaccurate. By comparison, in 1985, 55% said the news stories were accurate while only 34% said they were inaccurate.— http://people-press.org/report/543/
  • Griffiths, JM., and Kind, D. (2008). “InterConnections: The IMLS National Study on the Use of Library, Museums, and the Internet,” February 2008. http://interconnectionsreport.org/reports/ConclusionsSummaryFinalB.pdf
  • Third annual study from Saïd Business School, Oxford University
  • Ideum and Institute for Learning Innovation (ILI) worked together to develop the questions in the Interactive Computer-based Exhibits in Museums & Science Centers: State of the Field survey. http://openexhibits.org/full- results.html
  • American Association of Museums. http://www.aam-us.org/aboutmuseums/abc.cfm

One comment on Why virtual exhibits?

Emma Dipietro

03 Mar 2011, 11:05 pm


I am a great advocate for virtual exhibits as well. They provide a great opportunity for museums to engage visitors, especially those who do not have access to the physical space!

I agree that experience is more important than strictly learning facts, however virtual exhibits can also construct meaning. I read this great resource on constructivist learning and virtual exhibits. Its a quick and easy read (which I love!) about practically applying this theory to an exhibit, worth a peak!



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