Multi-modal experiences offer different ways of interacting with content. Delivering content through a variety of methods produces a more dynamic experience where there’s something for everyone. 1

girls on yard interactive

Why it is Important

Presenting content through kinesthetic, audible, tactile, logical, and other formats creates multiple entry points of engagement for all users. Leveraging different learning styles within a family group creates an experience that engages everyone.

Put it into Practice

Combining modes of engagement and sensory experiences enhances written and verbal content. A layered and immersive approach to design appeals to different types of learners.

Combine Modes of Interpretation

The richest experiences combine many different modes of interpretation. This combination ensures that different learners in a multigenerational family group find an activity or content that appeals to them.

The All Hands on Deck exhibit at the USS Constitution Museum has intentionally designed multi-modal stations with multiple entry points. These stations display content through a combination of text, artifacts, graphics, images, and hands-on interactives at each station.

all hands on deck exhibit
Aerial view of the All Hands on Deck prototype exhibit. There are stations throughout that display content in many ways.

One section tells the story of a sailor flogged aboard ship. Initially, the area included a reproduction cat o’ nine tails (or whip), a full-sized cutout of a sailor, a speech bubble telling his story, and a period quote. In observations, few visitors stopped. We added a small illustration of a sailor being flogged while his shipmates watched. After this change, visitors did stop and commented on this content in exit interviews. Visitors needed a way into the story, and the illustration provided context and an added mode of interpretation.

discipline exhibit
The addition of an illustration made a difference in this display. More visitors stopped and engaged with the content after we added this small image to provide another entry point and some context.

Involve the Senses

An exhibit is more likely to be effective if a variety of exhibit techniques address a range of senses. Smelling the pine tar in the ship’s rigging or the salted cod packed into barrels creates a more vivid experience than simply reading about life at sea. When visitors climb in a hammock or get on their knees and scrub the deck, it is a full-body tactile experience. These activities elicit the most comments in exit interviews at the USS Constitution Museum, and are the elements most frequently recalled by families, even years after a visit.

Action Can Speak Louder than Words

One of the most important themes for our All Hands on Deck exhibit is teamwork. There is no text panel that explicitly calls out this theme, yet in exit interviews, visitors continually brought it up. How were they learning this? Through the exhibit’s multi-modal yard activity. It requires visitors to stand on a footrope and work together to let out or furl a sail. The content is delivered in multiple modes: a kinesthetic, hands-on experience supported by instructional text, images, and a projected video of sailors working together.

Family on yard interactive
Families must work together to furl the sails in this yard activity.

This concept is one of the seven characteristics of family-friendly exhibits identified by PISEC. [Borun, Minda, et al. Family Learning in Museums: The PISEC Perspective. Philadelphia: Philadelphia/Camden Informal Science Education Collaborative (PISEC), The Franklin Institute, 1998.]

2 Adams, Marianna, et al. What We Do and Do Not Know about Family Learning in Art Museum Interactive Spaces: A Literature Review. Family Learning in Interactive Galleries (FLING). 2010: 9. This comprehensive review, circa, 2010, covers the changing definitions of family, facilitation, audience motivations, social interaction, audience goals and values, parent behaviors, as well as describing the cycle of a family’s visit to a museum.