Museums as Contexts for Transformative Experiences and Identity Development

Joanna K. Garner, Avi Kaplan, Kevin Pugh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Museum educators and exhibition planners commonly anticipate and leverage visitors’ background, beliefs and goals to promote meaningful experience and learning. In this article, we propose that such visitor characteristics are themselves worthy targets of design with potentially desirable effects on visitors’ experience and identity change. We describe a conceptual continuum that extends the goals of visitors’ learning to transformative experiences and identity exploration. From the continuum we derive three exhibit design principles: re-framing informational content as powerful, self-relevant ideas; as a visitor, re-seeing the environment and one’s role and action choices within it; and, as a visitor, re-enacting new ways of conceiving of one’s role and capabilities. We present strategies that map onto each principle and brief examples to illustrate the approach.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-352
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Museum Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Identity
  • life-span
  • museum education
  • museum learning
  • transformative experiences
  • visitor engagement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Museology


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