The Future of Interactivity?

Mark Walhimer Exhibition Design, Future of Museums, Museum Planning Leave a Comment


What is the future of museum interactivity?

Reaching consensus on the stages of development of museums is difficult, but for the purpose of this conversation, I will use:

Museum 1.0
First Generation Museum, “Cabinet of Curiosity”
Collection cases, static displays, dioramas, object centric
•    Mutter Museum

Museum 2.0
Second Generation Museum / Science Center
Collection cases with push buttons and cranks
•    Museum of Science, Boston

Museum 3.0
Third Generation Museum / Science Center
Open ended, multi-layered and visitor centric and encourages conversations
•    Exploratorium

Museum 4.0
Fourth Generation Museum / Science Center
The Museum / Science Center is without walls, the museum experience starts prior to the visit to the “bricks and mortar” location and continues after the visit to the museum.  Museums of the fourth generation can / will use the techniques of museums 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0, plus the museum experience is customized to the visitor (similar to Web 3.0).  The visitor experience “meets” the visitor at their level of engagement, interest and knowledge.  The museum experience is customized to the visitor prior to the museum visit.   I do not know of any museum that I would refer to as Museum 4.0

Nomenclature becomes difficult, because web 1.0, web 2.0 and web 3.0 are often used in combination with Museum 1.0, Museum 2.0, Museum 3.0, Museum 4.0.  For more information about the development of the web Web 3.0 Explained

Many of the phases of the development of museums is based on the work of Piaget and Constructivist Learning Theory.  Piaget “suggested that through processes of accommodation and assimilation, individuals construct new knowledge from their experiences. When individuals assimilate, they incorporate the new experience into an already existing framework without changing that framework”.  In other words; when we don’t know why the sky is blue, we each come up with our own theory of why the sky is blue until other knowledge challenges our theory.  To change our “knowledge” of why the sky is blue, first we need to deconstruct our current theory, then replace the previous knowledge with new knowledge.

The Exploratorium is the forefather of today’s Science Center.  Many of the practices of the Exploratorium have now migrated to Art Museums, History Museums, Aquariums and Children’s Museums.  Science Museums prior to the Exploratorium (I will make a distinction between Science Museum and a Science Center, as Science Center incorporates the Constructivist Learning Theory), showed visitors information, the Exploratorium, encouraged visitors to deconstruct their previous knowledge.  Earlier Science Museums assumed that all visitors learned in the same way, assuming that by exhibiting a geode and a label, all visitors could assimilate the causes that created a geode.  It was the Museum of Science (Boston), that took content beyond the previous museum model of “Cabinet of Curiosities” by adding push buttons to diorama graphic panels, the museum created the first interactive exhibits and made the “knowledge that of the visitor”.

It was the Exploratorium that took museums to the next phase of their development, by having vistors perform science experiments instead of having “science shown”, as such the Exploratorium incorporated the theories of Piaget.  As an adjunct to Art Museums; Children’s Museums, grew from Art museums and the “teaching collection” of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences (now the Brooklyn Museum).  Since Children’s Museums grew from the teaching collection of an Art Museums, Children’s Museums have always had a hands on approach.  During the same time as the opening of the Exploratorium, Kinetic Art was developing and the Exploratorium incorporated artists into the development of exhibits.

Previously, I believed that “theming” was the start of the next phase in the development of museums, but I no longer believe that to be the case.  Theming or “the use of an overarching theme…to create a holistic and integrated spatial organization of a…venue” provides a context for the content of an exhibition.  Although we require a context for knowledge, I don’t believe the incorporation of theming to be a milestone in the development of museums.  I now see “theming” as a continuation of dioramas, as “walkthrough dioramas”.

Web 3.0 or the “Semantic Web”, is thought to be the next phase of the development of the world wide web.  Similarly, I believe the next phase in the development of museums, Museum 4.0 will closely follow the Web 3.0 or  a web of content “that can be processed directly and indirectly”.  One of the most difficult concepts to communicate is that of interconnections, the goal of Museums 4.0 will be that of interconnections.  As a continuation of my concept of the Hub Museum, the “museum” will no longer be a location but a web of locations and interconnections, starting before the “museum” visit and continuing after the visit to a physical location.

In the next blog post “Future of Interactivity, Part II”, I will explore types of interactivity, philosophies of interactivity and the future technologies of interactivity.


History of Museums “Cabinet of Curiosities”,

World’s Oldest Museum?

Jean Piaget,

Constructivism (learning theory),

First Interactive Museum,

Museum of Science (Boston),

Exploratorium History,

Learning Styles,

Museum of Science (Boston),

History of Children’s Museums,’s_museum


Kinetic Art,

Web 3.0,


There are limited online resources for the history of museums and science centers, I will continue to update the above resources, mw

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