Virtual Museums: The Future of Museum Visits?

Mark Walhimer Future of Museums, Virtual Museums Leave a Comment

SoftspaceAR by Yiliu Shen-Burke

Today’s digitally-savvy millennials are accustomed to finding answers fast. They spend less time researching and more time taking action. To stay relevant, museums need to meet visitors where they are: in the digital space. Virtual museums offer an exciting — and cost-effective — a new way for visitors to experience the world’s finest art, artifacts, and natural history specimens from the comfort of their own homes. Virtual Museums are a combination of virtual reality technology, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT). The goal is to create engaging online experiences that simulate an actual museum visit but with a variety of unique twists. Here’s what you need to know about virtual museums and how they might shake up the future of museum visits in the years ahead…

What Is a Virtual Museum?

A virtual museum is an online exhibit or gallery designed to educate and entertain. It’s a digital museum on the internet — not in a physical building. Virtual museums can be an effective way to engage audiences worldwide with interactive programming, visual and auditory content, and educational experiences. Virtual museums can be organized around specific themes, topics, or collections. Museums or educational institutions can create them to showcase their artifacts, art, and specimens. While virtual museums aren’t designed to replace the experience of visiting a real, brick-and-mortar museum, they offer a unique way to connect with a global audience. Virtual museums can be tailored to engage visitors, including those who live far away from major metropolitan areas. They’re also a great way to provide remote learners access to rare artifacts and specimens.

The Benefits of Virtual Museums

– Immersive experiences: Virtual museums allow visitors to engage with artifacts and specimens in new, exciting ways. It’s not just about looking. Visitors can build and take apart replicas of historic landmarks, travel to distant stars and planets, and interact with some of the world’s most famous art. – Accessible experiences: Visiting a real museum can be daunting for many people. Physical museums often offer limited hours, are located in inconvenient areas, and charge admission rates that prohibit access for many. Virtual museums can be enjoyed whenever and however visitors choose, removing many barriers preventing regular museum visits. – Sustainability: One of the most significant benefits of virtual museums is their ability to scale. Real museums are expensive to build, maintain and keep up, especially considering their limited hours and accessibility. Virtual museums, on the other hand, can be published to the web at a relatively low cost. They’re accessible to anyone worldwide with internet access and can thrive on a year-round schedule. – Cost-effectiveness: Real museums are extremely expensive to construct, maintain and operate. They often rely on significant government funding, philanthropic support, and donations from patrons to stay afloat. Virtual museums, on the other hand, are much cheaper to produce. They can be hosted online for anyone to access for free, with no admission charge.

How Does a Virtual Museum Work?

To create a virtual museum, museums must digitize their artifacts, specimens, and art. This process involves photographing the items, cleaning them, removing glare, and scanning them into computer databases. Most virtual museums use 3D modeling software to create interactive replicas of the originals. These replicas can then be published online to create a virtual museum experience. Virtual museums can be used in various contexts, including as online exhibits and galleries, training tools, and standalone museum experiences. Museums can publish virtual museums on their websites or third-party platforms like Google Arts & Culture.

Challenges of Virtual Museums

– Fragmented audiences: One of the biggest challenges of virtual museums is that they’re not as easily accessible to everyone. Physical museums can be used by everyone, regardless of their location or ability to access the internet. Virtual museums, on the other hand, can only be accessed online — which means they’re only accessible to those with internet access. – No tactile experience: One of the most significant differences between a physical and virtual museum is the lack of tactile experience. Visitors can touch and interact with the artifacts, art, and specimens in a physical museum. In virtual museums, visitors can only see and interact with replicas of the originals. They’re unable to experience the real thing. – Lack of collaboration: Collaboration is a significant part of the museum experience. Museum-goers can often see and speak as they travel between exhibits. This is not possible in virtual museums, where visitors are isolated from one another.

Who’ll Benefit From Virtual Museums?

Virtual museums can be a great way to provide remote learners with access to rare artifacts and specimens. They’re also cost-effective for museums to offer more programming to a broader audience. Virtual museums can also be used as a tool for conservation efforts. They can be used to monitor artifacts, and specimens in real-time, which can be incredibly helpful for monitoring climate change and other environmental factors that affect museum items. Finally, virtual museums can be used to house relics from endangered cultures. They can be used to showcase items that might be too sensitive to ship to real museums or that might be threatened by war or political unrest.

Bottom line

Real museums are a great way to connect with visitors, but they have limitations. Virtual museums have a lot of potential to reach a wider audience without the cost and constraints of building a physical museum. The future of museum visits may well be online, and virtual museums can be a big part of the future.


Contact Museum Planning if we can be of assistance with your digital project.

Mark Walhimer is a managing partner of Museum Planning, LLC, a museum planning and exhibition design studio, and the author of two books, Museums 101 (2015) and Designing Museum Experiences (2021). He oversees Museum Courses and is the founder of the Museum Planner resources website.

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