Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs in Visitor Studies: A Critical Reflection on Three Projects

April 26th, 2019 | RESEARCH

Identifying causal relationships is an important aspect of research and evaluation in visitor studies, such as making claims about the learning outcomes of a program or exhibit. Experimental and quasi-experimental approaches are powerful tools for addressing these causal questions. However, these designs are arguably underutilized in visitor studies. In this article, we offer examples of the use of experimental and quasi-experimental designs in science museums to aide investigators interested in expanding their methods toolkit and increasing their ability to make strong causal claims about programmatic experiences or relationships among variables. Using three designs from recent research (fully randomized experiment, post-test only quasi- experimental design with comparison condition, and post-test with independent pre-test design), we discuss challenges and trade-offs related to feasibility, participant experience, alignment with research questions, and internal and external validity. We end the article with broader reflections on the role of experimental and quasi-experimental designs in visitor studies.



Team Members

Josh Gutwill, Author, Exploratorium
Ryan Auster, Author, Museum of Science, Boston
Mac Cannady, Author, Laurence Hall of Science
Scott Pattison, Author, TERC


Identifier Type: doi
Identifier: 10.1080/10645578.2019.1605235

Publication: Visitor Studies
Volume: 22
Number: 1
Page(s): 43-66


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: AISL
Award Number: 1321666

Funding Source: NSF
Award Number: 0411826

Funding Source: IMLS
Award Number: MG-10-13-0021-13

Related URLs

Researching the Value of Educator Actions for Learning (REVEAL)
Facilitating Group Scientific Inquiry Using Science Museum Exhibits


Audience: Evaluators | Families | Learning Researchers | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Education and learning science | Mathematics
Resource Type: Peer-reviewed article | Research Products
Environment Type: Exhibitions | Museum and Science Center Exhibits

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This material is supported by National Science Foundation award DRL-2229061, with previous support under DRL-1612739, DRL-1842633, DRL-1212803, and DRL-0638981. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations contained within InformalScience.org are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

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