Thursday, June 18, 2009

Csikszentmihalyi & Hermanson (1999) Intrinsic Motivation in Museums: Why Does One Want to Learn?

This is another paper that was recommended to me by Peter Leong who is teaching a course in Second Life this summer for the College of Education at the University of Hawaii. We are trying to better understand how we might build engaging learning spaces in Second Life.

Reading this paper I started wondering what proportion of the population went to museums. Superficially I imagine computer games and films/tv to be far more frequently consumed by the general population, although since having children I realise what a valuable resource museums are. Is going to the cinema more popular than going to the museum? I guess the big difference is whether you are asking your audience to sit in a chair or walk around, and whether they are hoping for thrills rather than to be made to think. One imagines that theme parks are more popular than museums, but again it would interesting to know the real statistics.

Csikzentmihalyi's concept of flow was mentioned in the McClelland (2000) paper I blogged about previously. Although it seems like Pine and Gilmore's experience realms diagram is a subdivision of flow, at least since reading Csikzentmihalyi's paper he mentions flow in the context of watching a basketball game, so the implication is that one can get sucked in to a state of flow for both passive and interactive experiences, and either absorptive or immersive experiences? However I am less clear about this latter dimension, I guess immersion is where you are totally immersed actively in a role, or in a passive appreciation of something. Funny as I would call that being absorbed, but absorption for P&G seems to be more about maintaining a distance from the thing you are observing, e.g. for an educational experience where you try and work out how something works.

Csikszentmihalyi & Hermanson (1999) distinguish extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. They argue that museums must rely on intrinsic methods of motivation. A good part of the paper is taken up describing the flow concept, and I the range of activities the authors suggest can induce flow are wider than I expected. Flow apparently relies on activities that have clear goals and appropriate rules:
Conflicting goals or unclear expectations divert our attention from the task at hand
However this is at odds with some of my experience programming, where I am changing goals as I explore different possibiilties. It seems to me there can also be a state of flow as I explore and reject possible goals, although I take the main point that this does require some shift in level of attention. Given clear specifications and little ambiguity one can become completely immersed in programming to specification, but sometimes the most interesting solutions come from questioning the goals and expectations to find alternative solutions to the real underlying problem.

The authors also mention that as skills increase, the challenges of the activity must increase to maintain flow, which reminds me of the suggestion in other motivations literature (Dornyei?) that tasks should be just hard enough and not too hard to maximize motivation, although I have yet to find any empirical studies which back this up. The authors also cite a number of references to support the assertion that affective processes can be as important as cognitive processes in learning, and this ties in to ideas about memory being strongest when things are linked to emotionally charged events. Further discussion of flow includes the assertion that:
when involved in the activity, the individual fully expresses the self
although sometimes when I am in a programming or writing flow I think I lose my "self". Overall the discussion of flow is interesting, but it only seems to tie weakly to the design challenge of museum exhibits. At least it is not clear whether the state of flow which I associate with much more focused activities is necessarily the state we should be trying to induce in museum visitors; although arguably it would be no bad thing to have visitors losing themselves in the exhibits. The authors provide the diagram shown above to indicate one approach to structuring exhibits or experiences at museums. There is the "hook" that piques initial interest, opportunities for involvement and then a set up for intrinsic rewards that hopes to stimulate flow. There are many good suggestions such as trying to connect exhibits to the individual visitor and presenting things as perspectives rather than fact:
Information that is presented as true without alternative perspectives discourages the motivation to explore and learn more
Although this is slightly ironic as the statement itself is one of fact rather than perspective. There are further discussions of the conditions for flow, such as the suggestion that displays should provide information by which visitors can compare their responses to other standard(s?), and that supportative environments provide people with choices, and acknowledge their perspectives or feelings; however I find these difficult to conceptualize without more concrete examples. However the authors do acknowledge that as yet there is:
no table where we can look up the elements that will attract the curiosity of difference types of visitors.
Just started having this idea about doing roleplays and paying SL residents to come in and be actors for some relatively low rate of Linden dollars. Arguably they would be more fun to interact with than scripted bots, would allow for the possibility of "unscripted" emotional interaction. Although of course the payment aspect might negatively effect the social interaction. What about tasks or role plays where you don't get paid unless a team works together. An extrinsic reward may undermine intrinsic motivation according to this paper, but museum's pay actors to form living exhibits in their museums ... I wonder if one could create something engaging ... could the activity be interesting enough that people would get involved anyway? I wonder what kind of games have been built in second life already? I don't hear much about that, but then I haven't looked. It seems like you could have a murder mystery, or ecological mystery - could have a subterranean level with dwarves or gnomes (or menehune) suffering from a disease and rather than just find a cure, you have to convince the dwarves to change their behaviour which requires talking to multiple NPCs and working out a convincing argument - all much easier to make believable if you can make the dwarves real people playing roles ... they can judge themselves whether they have been convinced by what the team of detectives come up with, and be in a position to hand out prizes (in a suitable story context) when they feel they have been convinced. Of course we also have to deal with new people popping in at different times, but could deal with that by restricting the number of entrances; could have a leader board of time to solve the problem - I guess the whole thing could reset after a certain time - but what we really want is to allow multiple actors to come in and have their teamwork be required to solve the problem - I guess there could be multiple versions of the game - one if there is only one avatar and other harder versions if there are more avatars around ...

Some related SL activity includes Second Life Singers, and also a Macbeth interactive experience, Virtual Hallucinations, and the OSU Medicine Testis Tour.

Also an interesting blog on Education in Second Life.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, & Kim Hermanson (1999). Intrinsic Motivation in Museums: Why Does One Want to Learn? The educational role of the museum By Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, 146-160

Cited by 70 [ATGSATOP]


Diane Nahl said...

"tasks should be just hard enough and not too hard to maximize motivation,"

This is the Yerkes-Dodson Law of Arousal, many empirical studies document its dynamics. It is mofre complex because arousal depends on task complexity, e.g., for complex tasks when one is too engaged (aroused) one overlooks things;

Sam Joseph said...

Thanks Diane, that's very helpful. The only references I had found for this were Dornyei and Wlodlowski, and neither of them connected it to any other literature; they just described it as intuition. Wikipedia has some that I will follow up on:

kim hermanson said...

Hi Sam,
I'm glad to know that people are still are reading our article. I just published a book that expands on the ideas about adult learning that we touched on in this article on learning in museums. It's called Getting Messy: A Guide to Taking Risks and Opening the Imagination. Also, here's a link to my blog if you're interested...
Good luck with your work!
Kim Hermanson