Research Summary

Using technology to educate zoo visitors about conservation

Video Presentation Boosts Staying Time and Knowledge in an Exhibit

Visitor Studies

As zoos have expanded their missions to include educational goals, they have also had to stretch their resources to provide the staff needed to deliver their conservation messages. And research suggests that the investment pays off, as live presentations have proven to be effective educational tools. But, as the authors of this paper acknowledged, “This requires zoo staff or volunteer docents to be present to give interpretive presentations, which can be costly and may not always be feasible.”

The authors of this study investigated whether a video presentation also can serve as a useful educational tool when a live presenter is not available. To find out, the researchers analyzed visitors to Zoo Atlanta’s Orangutan Learning Tree exhibit. The exhibit showcases some of the zoo’s orangutan research, and the interpretive information—delivered in live presentations, video presentations, and signage—includes conservation information and specific behaviors that visitors can adopt to help conserve orangutan habitat.

The researchers measured visitors’ stay time in the exhibit and also administered a short survey to visitors to gauge their knowledge of key concepts delivered in the exhibit. The researchers noted whether a visitor experienced the exhibit with a live presentation, video presentation, or only signage. Visitors who stayed in the exhibit at least 90 seconds (the length of the presentation) were asked to complete the five-question survey. The survey consisted of three multiple choice questions and two free recall questions. In total, the researchers recorded the stay time of 582 visitors and administered the survey to 180 adult visitors.

The researchers found that visitors stayed in the exhibit longer during the live and video presentations than when there was no presentation. There was no difference in the amount of time visitors stayed if they experienced the live or video presentation.

In terms of what visitors learned, overall knowledge scores indicated that the live presentation generated the best results, followed by the video presentation. The no-presentation condition, in which the information was provided through signage only, yielded the lowest overall knowledge scores.

Interestingly, the knowledge results varied based on the type of question. Visitors who experienced the live and video presentations were equally skilled at answering the multiple choice questions, in which the visitor selected one correct answer among several choices. The researchers noted that this type of question tests “recognition memory.” In contrast, visitors who experienced the live presentation were better at answering the open-ended questions, which require “recall memory.” The researchers surmised that “videos may be effective for conveying fairly simple information or information that people might come across and be able to recognize in the future.” On the other hand, the live presentations better support recall memory that “would be relevant if a visitor wanted to remember something that they weren’t likely to come across after leaving the zoo.”

Although the authors suggested that future research should focus on ways to improve video presentations so that they better support recall memory, nevertheless, “in the absence of a live presentation, a video recording of a person giving a presentation is an effective education technique.” The researchers also acknowledged that, while this research tested visitors’ knowledge of the exhibit’s key themes and suggested conservation behaviors, they did not measure whether visitors actually followed through with those behaviors, which is the zoo’s ultimate goal.

The Bottom Line

Real people make a real difference when it comes to delivering educational content. In this study, live presentations generated the best results in terms of visitors’ knowledge after viewing an exhibit. But when a real person isn’t available, video presentations can serve as an acceptable substitute. Visitors to the same exhibit who viewed a video presentation knew more about the exhibit content than visitors who were exposed to the same information through signage. This study did not investigate whether different approaches to video presentations could make them more effective, but based on the results of this research, it seems that it would be a fruitful area of research.