Museum learning via social and mobile technologies: (How) can online interactions enhance the visitor experience?


Address for correspondence: Miss Koula Charitonos, Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, UK. Email:



Key to introducing information and communication technologies in museums is to support meaning-making activity in encounters with artefacts. The study presented in this paper is exploratory in nature and investigates the use of social and mobile technologies in school field trips as a means of enhancing the visitor experience. It is anchored in sociocultural perspectives of learning as meaning making, with a focus on mediating artefacts in the development of understanding. The Museum of London was selected as the site of the study and the participants were a Year 9 History class (13–14 years old) in a secondary school in Milton Keynes. The paper considers evidence of meaning making from students’ online posts on Twitter ( and activity on-site. Observational data, the visit's Twitter stream and post-visit interview data with the participants are presented and analysed. A mixed-method approach is employed to interpret the museum visit and examine young people's experience in the museum. Such an approach allows useful insights and shapes the understanding of how social and mobile technologies have an impact on the social dynamics of a school trip to a museum. Specifically, it explains the role of such tools in fostering the social interactions around museum artefacts and ultimately the process of shared construction of meaning making.

Practitioner Notes

What is already known about this topic

  • School field trips are an important means of introducing young people to museum collections and have long-term learning impact and influence perceptions.
  • Learning in museums is conceptualised as the construction of meaning. Making meaning is a social practice—people engage with their environment and each other through “socially made and culturally specific resources, in ways that arise out of their interests” (Kress, 2011).
  • Facilitating the visitors’ meaning-making process is key to introducing new technologies in museums (Kaptelinin, 2011).
  • Use of mobile tools in museum facilitates inquiry activities such as exploration, information search, communication and experience documenting (Hsi, 2002).
  • Many information technologies implemented in museum and field trips fail to meet the real needs of their users (Gammon & Burch, 2008) and may appear to isolate visitors and inhibit social interaction (vom Lehn & Heath, 2005).

What this paper adds

  • Explores the use of social and mobile technologies at the interface of formal and informal contexts in K-12 education.
  • Provides an example of “enforced” mobile usage (Rushby, 2012) with empirical evidence on how social and mobile technologies could be integrated in school field trips to museums.
  • Focuses on a learning design that allows learners to switch between different contexts (offline/online; individual/social; formal/informal) and extend the social spaces in which learners interact with each other.
  • Employs a mixed-method approach in analysing content generated online in a school visit to a museum.
  • Contributes to a research agenda for mobile learning and particularly in designing and studying “seamless learning spaces”.

Implications for practice and/or policy

  • The findings will contribute to museum education initiatives for effective use of social and mobile tools within school programmes.
  • Indicates the potential of the “interconnected opinion space” and “archival space” in designing museum programmes for meaning making across contexts.
  • Highlights the need to develop more effective pedagogic strategies that will anticipate and encourage the ways that young people use social and mobile technologies and at the same time minimise the tension between the contexts, the content and the mediation tools.