Audiences and learning
People are the only reason for museums to exist. It may appear simplistic and obvious to say so, but that fact is sometimes overlooked in the day-to-day process of operating a museum. Everything museological revolves around the human race. Therefore, an understanding of human learning-or at least the basis for educated guessing-is useful for developing exhibitions that serve audience needs. Knowing who the people are that museums serve has become a quest of the later part of the twentieth century. “Know your audience and market accordingly.” This statement might well be the watchword of museums today, though some might not view it in quite such materialistic and commercial terms. However, even the most altruistic of museum professionals must acknowledge that knowing for whom the museum is being operated helps in planning exhibitions. Of all the factors affecting decision-making in museums, the audience is the least understood and most frustrating. This is because people are themselves complex and unpredictable. We humans have managed to amass some information about how we function physically, physiologically, and emotionally. This knowledge can be valuable to the museum planner who wants to attract and hold an audience by providing meaningful experiences. Much of the knowledge now available to museum professionals flows naturally from the art and science of education, which, in turn, derives many of its understandings from the fields of medicine and psychology. It is reasonable to apply such knowledge to museums because they are, at the core, educational institutions. Understanding how people learn and their requirements for having profitable educational experiences has proven to be of great help to museum exhibitors. Often such information assists in explaining observed, but puzzling human behaviors in museums (i.e., the need to touch, the tendency to avoid some galleries and to be irresistibly drawn to others, and the apparently positive response to some stimuli and the relative indifference toward others). Always, an understanding of audience needs and expectations will enhance both the process and the product of exhibitions.