Exploring How Awareness-making Elicits Meaning-making in Museum Visitors: A Mixed-methods Study

Molly C. O’Connor, Kristen C. Nelson, Amit Pradhananga, Megan E. Earnest

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Awareness-making (AM) describes a process by which visitors bring with them past experiences and knowledge, all of which help them make sense of museum exhibits. Meaning-making (MM) is when museum visitors’ memories transform their museum experience into new knowledge and meaning. This article explores how AM elicits MM in museum visitors. We conducted research at a natural history museum exhibition called Minnesota Journeys, based on a moose natural habitat display and accompanying touchscreen. The exhibition was developed in Minnesota by the Bell Museum for all ages. We report findings from a mixed-methods study incorporating surveys (n = 243) and interviews (n = 30) with adult museum visitors. The findings of this paper (1) describe how, after visiting both the moose habitat display and touchscreen, most visitors learned to identify specific moose biology and ecology characteristics, such as behavior and habitat and (2) demonstrate how in a natural history museum setting visitor awareness-making can facilitate visitor meaning-making. We discuss implications for how to utilize these findings in other museum settings and exhibits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)187-199
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Museum Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study would not be possible without the support of key Bell Museum staff. Holly Menninger, the Bell Museum’s Director of Public Engagement and Science Learning, and Jennifer Stampe, the Associate Director of Public Engagement and Science Learning, were both instrumental during the initial design stages of this project. A special thanks to Adrienne Wiseman, the Bell Museum’s Director of Business and Marketing, for donating incentives for participants who completed surveys. Lastly, John Lavelle, Assistant Professor at the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota, was an important member of O’Connor’s master’s committee and provided support for project design and research methods. Dr Nelson is partially supported by NIFA McIntire-Stennis 1000343 MIN-42-051.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, © 2020 Museum Education Roundtable.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Visitor learning
  • exhibition
  • informal science education
  • interactive exhibits
  • museum practice
  • natural history
  • touchscreen

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