Comparing the Visitor Experience at Immersive and Tabletop Exhibits
Many museum professionals believe that immersive exhibits—those that surround visitors—provide more attractive, engaging and effective learning experiences than tabletop exhibits. We investigated this claim by comparing visitors’ experiences of the two exhibit types, using pairs of exhibits that differed in scale (immersive vs. tabletop), but shared the same content and similar visitor activity. We randomly selected, videotaped, interviewed, and sent follow-up surveys to sixty families who experienced immersive exhibits and sixty families who experienced tabletop exhibits. We found that each design type had strengths. Learners at immersive exhibits more often returned to the exhibits mentioned the exhibits’ positive aspects, and saw themselves as part of the exhibits. Conversely, learners spent longer periods of time at tabletop exhibits, and engaged in more content-related reasoning. Study results partially support the view that immersive exhibits may be more fun and engaging than tabletops. However, results also counter the expectations that being immersed in exhibit experiences will lead to greater physical and intellectual engagement.