A case study of mobile museum learning using the iPad

Inae Kang, Kyung Hee University, South Korea, SU HAN SHIN, Korea Securities Museum, South Korea

Mobile technologies have been rapidly adapted to various educational fields. Museum education is one of the fields, which attempts to apply mobile technologies according to social needs for changes in museum educational environments. In this context, this study conducted a case study of museum mobile learning using iPad, and analyzed the educational effects of the mobile learning. For this purpose, this study applied two theoretical approaches: The first was a mobile learning model characterized by five principles (i.e., social, seamless, adaptive, authentic, and technology-enabled learning); and the second, pedagogical strategies such as 3On’s (hands-on, minds-on, and hearts-on), self-directed learning, collaborative learning, Problem-based learning, and gamification. The iPad-based museum mobile learning program dealing with a theme of ‘protecting shark as endangered animal’, consisted of 120-minute learning activities for 8th graders (14-15 year olds) and practiced at the Ttang Kkeut Marine Natural History Museum during Oct. 2013. Various iPad apps were employed for the purpose of communication and interaction among the participants (e.g., SNS), production of their learning outputs (e.g., apps for text-editing, movie-making, and picture-taking), and information searching for the given task solving (e.g., searching tools). Data were collected from mind maps for pre and post-assessment, interviews and surveys with the participants, and instructors’ observational journals, and later analyzed according to the five characteristics of mobile learning model. The experimental results demonstrated that this innovative approach could satisfy all the five characteristics of the mobile learning, while showing the students’ active participation and high interests in the learning activities. Furthermore, the results of the case study suggested several considerations for further sustainable and feasible practice of museum mobile learning in future.

Keywords: museum mobile learning, iPAD-based learning, marine natural history museum, features of mobile learning, learning effects

1. Introduction

Mobile technologies have been rapidly adapted to various educational fields that include both formal (i.e., school) and informal learning institutions. Contrary to common expectation, however, schools tend to lag behind museums in providing support for the use of innovative technologies in their learning environments, due to their conservative organizational culture (Hawkey, 2004; Maringai, Skourlas, & Belsis, 2013; Murphy, Farley, & Koronios, 2013). In fact, it is museums that have embraced new technologies and approaches to learning.

Museums as informal learning institutions have been considered places for supporting intrinsically motivated, non-linear, and self-directed learning (Hawkey, 2001; Perry, 2002; Sharples et al., 2007), echoing museum learning theories such as “free-choice learning” (Falk & Dierking, 2002) and “constructivist learning” (Hein, 1995). In other words, learning in museums is characterized with learner-centered, collaborative, and inquiry-based learning, mainly focusing on interaction with objects (exhibits) and guided by a museum educator as facilitator. Learning activities in museums basically require mobility for exploration, and hands-on activities centered on objects in the museum.

Currently, mobile technology-mediated learning in museums has been practiced in ways ranging from simple use of mobile technology in exhibits to complicated mobile learning modes interwoven with mobile technologies and pedagogical strategies (Hou et al., 2014; Kang, 2010; Kang, Lim, & Park, 2012; Sung et al., 2010; Yiannoutsou et al., 2009). In particular, mobile technologies such as tablets or smartphones assist and promote mobile, portable, individual, explorative, inquiring learning with the technological features of context-awareness, wireless Internet in handheld, portable size (Kukulska-Hulme et al., 2007). Museum learning assisted with mobile technologies, then, can expand and enrich the possibilities of more active interaction between the users and the exhibits, and constructivist engagement with exhibits (Hou et al., 2014; Kang, 2010; Yiannoutsou et al., 2009).

The Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism of Korea, resonant with the global trend of IT-mediated museum learning, since 2013 has started to sponsor mobile technology-supported museum learning, called “Smart Museum Learning,” under the government policy project of “Museum: Humanities on the Road.” Nationwide, ten museums in 2013 and twenty-five museums in 2014 were participants in the smart-learning project, with various levels of depth and breadth in using mobile technologies and understanding mobile museum learning.

In this context, we conducted a case study of mobile museum learning for forty eighth graders (fourteen to fifteen year olds) at the Ttang Kkeut Marine Natural History Museum in 2013. The students’ responses to the mobile museum learning program were analyzed according to pedagogical principles defined in the conceptual framework of mobile museum learning (Kang & Lee, 2014). The program was designed as an iPad- and project-based learning experience (Hou et al., 2014; Sung et al., 2010) with a theme of “protecting sharks as endangered animals.”

2. A conceptual framework of mobile museum learning

There have been numerous studies on using mobile devices as supplementary learning aids in museum settings (Collins et al., 2009; Sung, Chang, Hous, & Chen, 2010; Sung et al., 2010; Hou et al., 2014). The mobile devices considered a key component in innovative learning are cellular (mobile) phones, tablet computers, and smart pads (e.g., iPad). Yet mobile museum learning or museum learning mediated by mobile technologies undertaken during the past two decades (Sharples et al., 2007) has commonly converged on the promotion of active engagement with exhibits, individualized, and social learning within museums (Kang, 2012).

Interestingly, there was a time in museum education when mobile museum learning as an informal learning experience outstripped school learning in terms of adapting IT to the learning environment. While schools were hesitating in applying innovative approaches due to their conservative organizational culture and entrenched processes (Murphy, Farley, & Koronios, 2013), mobile technologies came up with active participation in museum settings where traditionally pedagogy emphasized being learner-centered and social learning with exhibits in contexts (Hawkey, 2004; Hou et al., 2014). It is not difficult to imagine, then, how the features of mobile technologies defined as mobility, handheld portability, and context-awareness (Kukulska-Hulme et al., 2007) could be easily combined with museum pedagogies to form mobile museum learning as an innovative learning approach.

The practices or studies on mobile museum learning can be categorized as follows. The first is simply using the function of mobile devices in museums to assist learners in observing exhibits. For example, Collins et al. (2009) used the text-messaging functionality of cell phones to assist learners in observing exhibits. The second category is to use a mobile device to give further information on exhibits. For example, the Museum of London uses QR codes and NFC (Near Field Communication) to give more information about various objects on display in the formats of audio and video files, images, and text. More recently, Cooper Hewitt Museum developed an NFC-based solution for its renovated exhibits at Carnegie Mansion that will allow visitors to create their own digital design (Swedberg, 2014).

Similarly, the Discovery Center at the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History also provides a smart pad to visitors to give them more information about and interaction with the exhibits attached with QR code. These examples in the first two categories of mobile technology-based museum learning, however, might have some limitations in the sense that technological uses outweigh pedagogical approach.

The third category is the case of integrating mobile technology with museum pedagogy. For example, Chicago History Museums’ mobile guide system provides treasure-hunt tasks for learners to use while solving problems (Kwak, 2004). By applying the learner-centered approach of problem-based learning (PBL), the mobile guide system allows learners to solve problems (or tasks) through information searching, exploring, and analysis to provide historical narratives as backgrounds for the exhibits (Sung et al., 2010). A similar example is found in the program called “Murder at the MET,” which is also a mobile technology-mediated game, focusing on learning through the process of solving the given tasks, observing the exhibits, and exploring information. In Korea, a program called “Color generation” at Kyung Hee University Natural Science Museum also applied the mobile technology-mediated PBL approach. These examples of the third category, while integrating mobile technology with pedagogy, form a model of IT-mediated museum learning founded on firm theoretical approach for learning, hence fulfilling enriched engagement with exhibits and learners’ individual meaningful knowledge construction.

Since 2013, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism of Korea has provided sponsorship for “Smart Museum Learning,” which is almost identical with mobile museum learning in terms of the use of mobile technologies and pedagogical approaches. The Smart Museum Learning project had twenty-two participating museums nationwide in 2014, which is expected to be expanded in terms of the numbers of participant museums and the scope of sponsored fund in 2015 due to the reported successful outcomes of the projects (Korean Private Museums Association, 2013).

The Smart Museum Learning project revealed some problems as well. The participants showed varying depth and breadth in using mobile technologies and understanding mobile museum education. Kang and Lee (2014) conducted a survey to examine the status quo of their mobile learning practices to thirty-two participant museums (ten in 2013 and twenty-two in 2014). According to the results, museums that were practicing mobile museum learning according to the aforementioned first and second categories (red marks on figure 1) outnumbered those belonged to the third category (those classified with “app”/”project” and “beyond the wall” on figure 2).

fig1. the use of

Figure 1: the use of mobile technologies (N=32) (Kang & Lee, 2014)

Two things were noticeable from the analysis. First was the use of an e-portfolio, which implies effort for school-museum collaboration. Only one museum used the e-portfolio supplied by the project management agent. The e-portfolio was intended to include students’ outputs after the program participation as documents used as evidence showing their learning journey over time. The other was the use of a solution for mobile museum learning: A private company, Ins Edu, developed a solution of mobile device for project-based learning (Lim & Lee, 2013). Most museums were encouraged to use the solution for experimental purpose (Museum app/Projects on figure 2). The responses toward the solution were contradictory according to museums using it, since that requires extra effort to be familiar with the solution and extra money to use it on the side of the private museums.

Based upon the aforementioned literature review of mobile museum learning and the survey results of the Korean Smart Museum Learning project, Kang and Lee (2014) developed a conceptual framework for mobile (or smart as an exchangeable term) museum learning (figure 2) for the purpose of organizing and clarifying diverse ideas, forms, and principles surrounding mobile museum learning. Most practices of mobile museum education conducted overseas and in Korea, therefore, might be explained with the conceptual map.

[Figure1]conceptual frame

Figure 2: conceptual framework of mobile museum learning (Kang & Lee, 2014)

3. Research methods


The participants in this case study were forty eigth graders of a girls’ middle school located near the Ttang Kkeut Marine Natural History Museum (http://www.tmnhm.co.kr/). Most students had no experience using the iPad, the mobile device used in the program, except a few who were familiar with some basic functions of the tablet. The program consisted of 120-minute activities and was conducted on October 14, 2013.

Research Tools

The purpose of this study was to examine the students’ responses to the mobile museum-learning program so that qualitative data from mind-maps, surveys, and interviews, and observation notes were collected and analyzed (table 1).

Table 1: research tools

table1 research tool

The collected data was analyzed according to the pedagogical principles defined in the conceptual framework of the mobile museum learning (see figure 1). The survey used for the analysis of the program result consisted of a total of ten questions: seven questions were based upon the pedagogical activities presented in the conceptual framework of mobile museum education, while the first two questions were to ask about program satisfaction, and the final question was about the general response to the use of mobile technologies (iPad and apps). Each question was formed into a five-level Likert item ranging from “strongly agree [5]” to “strongly disagree[1].”

4: Design and development of the program

Design principles of the program

The design principles of the programs consisted of two aspects. One is pedagogical activities, among which six principles were selected from the conceptual framework of mobile museum education (figure 2), such as project-based learning, social learning, self-directed learning, sharing beyond the wall, object-based learning. The other is a technology-mediated approach which included four (on-site visit, mobile devices and apps, multiplatform, information searching) out of six categories (figure 3).

design principle

Figure 3: design principles of the program

Development of the program

Once the design principles of the program were fixed, the next stage was to develop the program reflecting the design principles. Figure 4 shows the process of the program.
Since the program was basically project-based learning, it starts with a given task to be solved, along with the orientation of how to use the mobile device and its apps, which is followed and proceed by the activities of problem solving (i.e., information searching, group discussion, output-making, presentation of the output, sharing and evaluation, and self-reflection).

fig 7. process

Figure 4: the process of the program

The theme of the task in the program was to protect endangered animals on earth. The participants were supposed to play the role of a PR team for the museum to compose a campaign song promoting public concerns and interests in protecting endangered animals, especially sharks. While completing the task of making the campaign song for protecting the shark, the participants were asked to utilize objects in the museum, information searching through a Web browser, and several free iPad apps to create their outputs (song-making).

After completing the campaign song, the participants made UCC using another free iPad app for video editing, including their campaign songs, and uploaded to sharing beyond the wall (SNS), which is familiar with the participants. The final activities were to present the output in the form of UCC to other teams, engaging in team evaluation activities. The program was wrapped up with completing the prepared survey and the second mind-map activity.

5. Results

The pedagogical activities employed as the design principles of the program were analyzed from the collected data of the mind-maps, survey, interviews, and observation notes of the instructors. Figure 5 briefly presents the results of the survey analysis (five-level Likert), which strongly resonated with other qualitative data analysis. Overall, the participants were highly satisfied with the program, especially due to the use of mobile devices (iPad and apps), which had supported and extended the possibilities of self-directed, social, and information searching, and project-conducting activities (i.e., learning activities within the informal learning environments).

fig results

Figure 5: the results of the survey

The students’ high satisfaction with the mobile museum-learning environments, however, cannot be explained only by the use of mobile technologies. The qualitative data from the mind-maps and interviews surely indicated the important influence of the pedagogical aspects such as project-based learning with their peer students within self-directed learning environments in enhancing their active engagement with and growing interest in the objects of the museum. In other words, it means the balanced use of technology and pedagogy, or more specifically the mediating role of mobile technology, in enriching students’ interaction with the museum objects, their active roles as self-directed learners who choose the information or the objects they want to see, and their social activities in exchanging information and interaction with others.

Mobile technologies, therefore, make the students consider the museum not “as something to see and know about but something they can play with, observe, examine, and think with and have fun with in a purposeful and meaningful manner to solve the given tasks.” (Yiannoutsou et al., 2009, 232).

6. Conclusions

Mobile technology opens the door for a new kind of learning called “always-on,” beyond the wall of school, home, museum, or any place for learning and living. The museum has been considered a place for informal learning, characterized by learner-centered meaning making of experiences in relation with exhibits. Exploring, interpreting, and interacting with exhibits indexed in contexts were the authentic leaning environments of museum. Now, mobile technologies equipped with the functions of mobility, handheld portability, and context awareness are ready to enhance and enrich the traditionally assumed museum learning environments.

The purpose of this study in this context was to conduct a case study of mobile museum learning that reflects technological categories and pedagogical strategies derived from the conceptual framework of mobile museum learning. This study examined how students responded to the program through the analysis of data collected from mind-maps, surveys, interviews, and observation notes by the instructors. This study, which revealed high satisfaction of the students to the program and enthusiastic participation and interaction with the objects, peer students, and the learning activities, proved a desirable direction and possibility for mobile museum learning in terms of increasing engagement and interaction with exhibits and museum experience.

Based upon the case study, two things are considered more effective learning experiences in museums and more extended mobile museum-learning practices in the future. The first one is about time management related with learning activities with mobile devices. As Hou et al. (2015) pointed out, students who are not familiar with the mobile device tend to spend more time in acquainting with the mobile device before engaging in learning activities. Yet this problem is expected to fade away when many students come to be exposed to mobile devices in their schools, home, and museums in near future.

Another suggestion is also related with the time concern. In order to expect learning effects occurring in mobile museum learning, the museum and school should make a more collaborative effort and partnership in developing mobile museum-learning programs consistent with long-term sessions based upon curriculum analysis, or sequential learning activities as post-visit learning activities in school. The active use of e-portfolio is another way to promote school-museum collaboration in this sense.

Lastly, a balanced integration of technology with pedagogy should be reemphasized. Looking back to the past several decades of employing IT to learning environments, most attempts were not as successful as what we had expected, since the balanced relationship among technology, learning, and learner was not carefully examined due to hasty decision making overwhelmed by technology power over learning. Now, mobile museum learning seems to give another chance for museums to build a firm ground as an informal learning place practicing innovative learning approaches in relation to schools, and at the same time a chance for a paradigm shift in perceiving the school and museum collaborative partnership.


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Cite as:
I. Kang & S. SHIN, A case study of mobile museum learning using the iPad. In Museums and the Web Asia 2014, N. Proctor & R. Cherry (eds). Silver Spring, MD: Museums and the Web. Published October 2, 2014. Consulted .