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published: March 2004
analytic scripts updated:
November 7, 2010

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0  License

Art Museum Web Sites: From Information Medium to Learning Medium
Marie Desmarteau, University of Montreal, Canada

Session: School

Our exploratory research concerns the impact of the Internet on museums as well as the perception that visitors have of museums through these new information media. The rapid evolution of these technologies and their appearance in our everyday lives provokes profound changes in every domain, including museums, and raises numerous questions while permitting the creation of a new medium for learning.

The principal objectives of our project, on the theoretical level, are to explore the ways Quebec art museum Web sites are used as museum educational resources for adult learning and to build a typology of the abstract learning is achieved by their adult visitors. On a practical level, we seek to draw up a list of the needs or objectives sought, record the technical difficulties encountered during their virtual visit, ascertain the intention for visiting the Web site before/after the visit to the museum itself and to draw up a profile of museum Web site users.

Our methodology consists of analyzing the data from a bilingual questionnaire placed on-line on the Web sites of the 3 Quebec museums: Mus‚e des beaux-arts de Montr‚al, Mus‚e d'art contemporain de Montr‚al, Mus‚e du Qu‚bec with a sample group of 412 subject-respondents. The ensuing results provide Webmuseology with the first data on the users of Quebec art museum Web sites and make their needs known in a way to positively influence the creativity of the Web site designers.

The major contribution of the results of this investigation lies in the revelation that the majority of the young who visit actual museums are fervent users of art museum Web sites, undoubtedly due to the enthusiasm the young have for the Internet, unlike older adults who visit the actual museums. This could resolve in part our research problem which is the low number of visitors to the actual museums since the art museum Web sites serve as a lure to attract the young to the actual museum. Our research helps inform art museum Web site designers about the needs of Internet surfers as to the importance of focusing on the development of the educational side of the site through the digitization of their collections and artistic content.

As a rule, all our results enable us to affirm that the art museum Web sites promote learning for people of both sexes and of all ages, levels of education, professions and nationalities; the majority of the people who have engaged interactively with the Web sites have also visited the actual museums; for most the visit to the actual museum promotes equally the acquisition of new knowledge as well as a modest learning, irrespective of the number of visits annually to the actual museum; in most cases the visit to the art museum Web sites promotes modest learning; that the visit to other art museum Web sites promotes the acquisition of new knowledge in most cases; and that the subjects who visited the actual museum and returned to the Web site after their visit to the actual museum in order to learn more, acquired new knowledge in most cases. These results, in response to our research question: ?Can we itemize the abstract learning achieved by adults on art museum Web sites??

On top of this revelation of adult abstract learning, our research over this given period (5 months) will have permitted the identification of a socio-demographic profile of the visitors to these Web sites, which is summarized as: predominantly young women, in their twenties, with an undergraduate university degree or a college diploma, professionals or students, of Canadian nationality born in Quebec, Francophone, who visit actual museums as well as art museum Web sites more than three times a year. Most are experienced Internet users and frequently use word processors, exchange e-mails, use CD-ROMS but rarely converse on chat groups.

Following interviews with the Webmasters of the three museums explored, we could perceive their interest for our research and the influence that it can exert on their projects since they do not posses yet statistics on the users of their Web sites. At present all three are redesigning their Web sites.