This article is part of the series on “The Future of Museums” research carried out by Christina de Vreeze-Cabrera.


As museums being part of fast growing smart cities – increasingly concerned with creating healthy ecosystems to improve people’s wellbeing and quality of life – museums are present playing a key role.

Museums aim at making their exhibits appealing to an increasing variety of audiences while also nurturing their fundamental role in conservation, interpretation, education and outreach.

Immersive and interactive large size screens connected to apps available on tablets provided by museums, individual choice by selecting the type of information on a work of art, artist, medium or related period to be saved a favourite on to your own smart device, virtual reality to experience the époch of a painting, doesn’t that sound like the future ?

Well, the fact is that digital technology is already present in many museums worldwide, offering visitors experiences whereby their personal interactions are related to the exhibition collection, and so constitute an individual path each person choses within the museums as opposed to a preselected choice by curators.

Nonetheless, these same curators (and museum administrators) have designed these new type of visits in order to achieve their multiple missions of attracting more new visitors to their museums inducing interest with new technologies and offering better and more updated education on their collections. Rethinking the visiting method by improving it in order to achieve museum’s missions is the underlying force and not merely the application of new technologies.

VR, AR, intuitive applications, multi touch screens, portable tablets, linked applications to smart devices, at visitor level, all of these “new” digital tools and so many more, confer new meaning to museum visits and seem to achieve museum’s missions.

As scientific studies have proven, people are diverse and learn in different manners, reaching out by letting creativity partly take a role, people retain their own meaningful information provided by these interactive digital gadgets. Still, observing, studying, learning and researching takes an effort to dig deeper in order to have meaning. Retaining and widening knowledge comes through a learning process which involves an intellectual process and effort not to be foregone by the mere use of digital technologies.

The way museums link into the learning process with digital technologies is by fostering emotional engagement and inspiring thirst for more knowledge achieved by – for instance – storytelling, which is the most essential form of human learning (Bruner, 1990) because it establishes a universal way of communication; and because it invites audiences to fill in the blanks with their own experiences, it establishes personal connections, which can be deeper than intellectual understanding (Bedford, 2001; Springer et all., 2004). Thus, in museum exhibit context, objects become closer and more relevant for visitors, conveying different perspectives of the world (Twiss-Garrity et al., 2008) and so, a wider demographic is attracted to the museum.

The explosion of immersive digital technology, combined with recent research results in unlocking how the mind works has disclosed how our brain behaves in digital world on a mind-bending journey throughout the virtual universe.

What will emerging technologies and their -today- radically new applications mean for museums and mankind, for the future of human life and society and what philosophical questions of the self and ‘reality’ will arise related to digital experiences. Virtual and augmented reality future forms including immersive video games and social-networking sites will soon be seamlessly integrated into our museum learning lives and will be part of surprising constructive education possibilities.

Pioneering this initiative in the United States of America is in Ohio, the Cleveland museum of Art, who already in 2013 installed a large-size screen where up to 16 people and up to thousands of works of art can simultaneously be interacted with. Museums that followed suit are in Washington D.C., the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in 2014 and in Australia, Sydney, the Powerhouse Museum. In 2016 New York’s MOMA introduced VR in April followed by the United Kingdom’s London Courtauld Gallery. Many other museums around the globe are currently implementing other digital technologies to enhance learning and audience experiences.

We are at the dawn of the technological revolution where the experience of human being will be deeply transformed by the real and the virtual blend, who need and complement eachother.

The 2nd of February 2017.