Glossary of Visitor Studies Terms

These are common terms in the visitor studies profession. These definitions came from The Definitions Project. See the Definitions Project for additional terms.

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Affective: An attribute of the human experience that describes feelings or emotions and sometimes attitudes or values; often used to describe learning objectives or outcomes.

Assessment: The process of documenting, usually in measurable terms, knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs.

Audience Research: The systematic gathering of information (descriptive, psychological, contextual) about visitors or audiences.

Benefit: Lasting, meaningful change over time that results from multiple and diverse learning experiences; refers to collective sociological, psychological, economic, and/or environmental outcomes of education and learning.

Capacity Building: Activities that improve an organization’s ability to achieve its mission or a person’s ability to define and realize his or her goals or do his or her job more.

Critical Appraisal: The overall observations and expert judgment of an exhibition, program or interpretive product by a professional evaluator (or panel of professional evaluators) to identify obvious or suspected problems which can be immediately corrected or studied later with visitor input.

Demand Analysis: The deliberate and systematic process of gathering information and data about current and potential visitors for program and administrative decision-making; audience inventory and analysis that considers current, hindsight, and future perspectives and employs a thoughtful and deliberate process for understanding and describing patterns in the data for making planning recommendations.

Effectiveness: The degree to which the project achieves its stated objectives with its intended audience.

Ethics: The rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession.

Evaluation: A judgment of worth or merit; an appraisal of value; the careful appraisal and study of something to determine its feasibility or effectiveness.

Evaluation Planning: The decision making process for evaluation that often includes at minimum, sections that address, (a) purpose of and audience for the evaluation, (b) information needed and type of evaluation, (c) who has the information – visitors, stakeholders, audiences, etc), (d) how should the information be collected – methodologies but also ethical treatment of respondents, (e) what resources are available.

Formative Evaluation: Provides information about how a program or exhibit can be improved and occurs while a project is under development. It is a process of systematically checking assumptions and products in order to make changes that improve design or implementation.

Front-end Evaluation: Provides background information for future project planning and development. It is typically designed to determine an audience’s general knowledge, questions, expectations, experiences, learning styles, and concerns regarding a topic or theme.

Goal: A statement about intended outcome of an interpretive or educational program.

Human Dimensions: The recognition and acceptance of human dimension factors in resource management; the interface of social science and natural resource management.

Impacts: The collective effects, achievements, benefits, or changes brought about by a program or exhibit on its intended audiences or on the environment. Impacts often embody lasting changes, such as improved environmental conditions and changes in the way people think and live.

Indicator: A benchmark or specific performance target used to determine success of an outcome.

Informal Learning: The truly lifelong process whereby every individual acquires attitudes, values, skills, and knowledge from daily experience and the educative influences and resources in his or her environment -- from family and neighbors, from work and play, from the market place, the library, and the mass media. Related words or phrases include free-choice learning and self-directed learning.

Informal Learning Environments: The places, venues, and settings where informal learning opportunities are intentionally made available to visitors, such as in parks or museums.

Institutional Review Board (IRB): Also known as an independent ethics committee (IEC) or ethical review board (ERB) is a committee that has been formally designated to approve, monitor, and review research involving humans with the aim to protect the rights and welfare of research subjects.

Interpretive Planning: The decision making process that blends management needs and resource considerations with visitor desire and ability to pay to determine the most appropriate interpretive (educational) prescriptions for their site and situation. Interpretive Plans often include at minimum, sections that address, (a) the context and situation - history, background, rationale for the plan, (b) purpose for the plan, (c) inventory and analysis of facilities, resources, programs, issues, audiences, (d) media alternatives and decision criteria; media recommendations, and (e) actions needed – timeline, budget, resources.

Logic Model:An organizing tool or picture of how an interpretive or educational organization or program works. A logic model links outcomes (short- and long-term) with program activities and processes and the theoretical assumptions of the program through tiered objectives:outputs, outcomes, and impacts.

Measurement: The assignment of numerals to objects or events according to rules; an operation resulting in standardized classifications of outcomes; in visitor studies or evaluation research, measurement often refers to the tools used to capture data about audiences or visitors and may include such things as observations, interviews, focus groups, surveys and so forth.

Needs Assessment: A systematic process for determining the needs of a defined population; the process of researching need, available services, and service gaps by population and geographic area.

Objective: A statement of a specific, measurable, and observable result desired from an educational or interpretive activity or experience; a stated expectation about audience, behavior, condition, and degree that will result from a learning experience.

Outcomes: The achievements or changes brought about by a program, project, exhibit, or activity that helps lay the foundation for longer-term impacts or benefits. Outcomes can involve changes in behavior, skills, knowledge, attitudes, values, or condition after participating in a learning activity or experience.

Outcome-Based Evaluation: Evaluation that focuses on measurable visitor outcomes rather than outputs.

Output: The material products, programs, or other media of a program, exhibit, or project. Measurable, observable results that can be counted as numbers or dollars; direct products of activities measured in units.

Performance Measure: A benchmark or specific performance target used to determine the degree to which an outcome is successful. (See Indicator.)

Remedial Evaluation: The assessment of how all individual parts of an exhibition or interpretive project work together as a whole in order to improve the impact on visitors.

Rubric:Specific criteria or guideline used to evaluate learner outcomes.

Summative Evaluation: Conducted after an interpretative media, program, or exhibition is completed and provides information about the impact of that project. It can be as simple as a head count of program attendance or as complex as a study of what individuals learned; what is assessed should be tied to project goals and objectives.

Visitor Studies:The interdisciplinary study of human experiences within informal learning environments. The systematic collection and analysis of information or data to inform decisions about interpretive exhibits and programs.

  • Visitor studies follow rigorous research methods that adhere to the standards of the social sciences.
  • Visitor studies draw from and contribute to the theory and practice of social science.
  • Visitor studies are designed to improve the practices of learning in informal environments.
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