Docents, many of whom are volunteers, are an important asset to any museum or cultural site. They warmly welcome visitors, answer tough questions, and add immeasurable value to the visitor experience.
A mobile guide app should never act as a replacement for helpful docents—but it can act as a useful complement.
At STQRY, we get a lot of questions about the role of our mobile tour technology when docents are on site, so we thought we’d dedicate an article to this.
Below, we cover why mobile apps and docents work well in combination, plus key benefits of mobile guides that you might not know about.
Why mobile apps are an important complement to docents
Both docents and mobile apps, especially when offered together, can have a big impact on visitor experience.
There are different types of museum learners
In Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience, Dr. John Falk asserts that demographic data offers little help in the quest to improve visitor experience. What’s more illuminating is the visitor’s self-identified motivation for that particular visit.
He breaks these motivations down into 5 categories:
- Explorer - Explorers love to learn new things. They believe that there is always something interesting to discover and hope to see or learn something new.
- Facilitator - A facilitator visits a museum to make sure that others have a great experience. They want their child to see and experience new things. They want their elderly grandmother to have a fun and engaging day out of the house.
- Experience Seeker - These types of visitors come to satisfy their trip itinerary and cross major sites off their bucket list. Many experience seekers will also have another motivation on this list, such as to facilitate their child’s learning or to recharge amongst beautiful scenery.
- Professional/Hobbyist - This visitor seeks advanced knowledge and deep inspiration, whether for their job or a hobby they treat just as seriously. They might be writing a book, learning new sculpture techniques, or redesigning their home.
- Recharger - A recharger comes to the museum or culture site to feel peace and respite. We all have things that “fill our cup,” and for many people, a quick outing to their favorite museum does just that.
The motivation for visits can change based on the context. For example, a museum member with family in town might take the role of a Facilitator, helping her loved ones experience the museum for the first time, while ordinarily she’s more of a Recharger.
Docents and mobile apps can work together to satisfy all of these different needs.
For example, an Experience Seeker might want to quickly listen to the audio tracks they find most interesting before they move onto the next part of their day. Meanwhile, a Facilitator might want her family to chit chat with her favorite docent.
It’s hard to staff enough docents for language and accessibility
Depending on where your site is located, you might serve a couple languages or several. It can be a major challenge to schedule enough docents to satisfy language needs and accessibility requirements.
An app can serve as a source of basic museum information like hours and membership rates as well as content experiences like audio and written content.
When a docent isn’t available for a specific language or need, the app can assist.
Emotions improve learning—and both docents and apps have their part to play
The neuroscience of learning makes it clear that emotion matters.
— Dr. John H. Falk, Sea Grant Professor of Free-Choice Learning at Oregon State University and Director, OSU Center for Research on Lifelong STEM
Emotionally arousing events are likely strongly remembered because of the increased activation of the brain’s limbic system, which has been correlated with enhanced explicit memory for both pleasant and unpleasant events.
Docents and mobile apps can provide emotional experiences in their own unique ways.
For example, a docent can use their passion and excitement when leading a group and answering questions. A mobile app can offer engaging stories with different voice actors for notable figures.
7 benefits of mobile guide apps
Tour apps are beneficial, whether you currently have docents on site or not. Here are some of the top benefits of using a mobile tour guide app:
1. Multimedia content for different learning styles
With a tour guide app, you can upload different types of content. For the most important stops on your tour, you can include video, images, text, and audio content. Or, for less important stops, try adding just text and images to save time on content creation.
2. Multi Language capabilities
When you build your app with STQRY, you can offer multi language content. As soon as they open the app, visitors will be prompted to choose their language and all of the museum information and content will be provided in the correct language.
Not only is this a great complement to on-site docents, but it can also help you declutter your physical displays.
3. Improved accessibility
App content also helps organizations to meet accessibility requirements. For example, hearing impaired visitors can read text transcripts of audio content, while sight imparied visitors can listen to the audio content.
4. Powerful storytelling potential
Audio content offers unlimited creative potential.
Here are some things you can do:
- Use a voice actor and audio effects
- Have multiple voice actors act out a scene or story
- Arrange clips from interviews to piece together different perspectives
5. Offers self-led learning that’s always available
App content can fill in the gaps and guide visitors through the site when docents aren’t available. This can help you cover scheduling issues due to vacation, sick time, or any other reason.
Plus, visitors can initiate a self-guided tour when they don’t want to wait for the next tour time or simply prefer self-led learning.
6. Can help reduce crowding
If you’re struggling with space issues due to large groups, a mobile tour guide app can help. A percentage of visitors will always choose the app because they prefer self-led learning, and this app usage can help scatter visitors throughout the space better, as they progress at their own speed.
7. Offers both guided and adhoc experiences
You can use location-based triggers like GPS and bluetooth technology to autoplay content as visitors progress through your site.
Or, visitors can always choose to engage with various content in their own way, whether they want to go out of order or skip around.
How to get docents input when creating an app
If you decide to build a tour app of your own, make sure to get input from your docents. You can set up a survey or a focus group.
Be sure to ask them…
- Feedback on the layout of various tours
- Top questions that visitors ask
- Interesting facts and stories that visitors love to hear
- Any other ideas on what to include in the content
Docents will always be an amazing resource, but mobile app guides offer their benefits which pair perfectly with on-site staff and volunteers.