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Designing for Productive Struggle: A Research and Development Guide to Creating Exhibits that are Both Challenging and Rewarding

January 1, 2021 | Exhibitions

This guide describes the project team’s approach in designing exhibits intended to elicit “productive struggle,” which we define as an experience with three elements: 1) a learner encounters a disruptive task, phenomena, or idea and shifts into a state of disequilibrium (which might be experienced as emotions like confusion, frustration, surprise, or unease); 2) the learner is supported to persist through disequilibrium using emotional or behavioral resources (e.g., motivation, self-efficacy, problem-solving, trying again); and 3) the learner achieves an emotionally productive resolution tied to the source of disequilibrium or a more holistic sense of effortful achievement.

Sections of this guide include background on the project; an introduction to emotions and affective science; a design framework for creating productive struggle experiences at exhibits; three example exhibits (case studies for framework implementation); and a review of research and evaluation methodology with example instruments. This guide is intended for a wide variety of museum professionals, including exhibit developers, designers, researchers, and evaluators, who are interested in exploring emotions in museum experiences.


  • Headshot 1
    Museum of Science, Boston
  • REVISE logo
  • BeckiKipling
  • REVISE logo
  • Katharina Marino
  • Beth Malandain
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  • Citation


    Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
    Award Number: 1612577
    Resource Type: Reference Materials
    Discipline: Education and learning science | General STEM
    Audience: Museum/ISE Professionals | Evaluators | Learning Researchers
    Environment Type: Exhibitions | Museum and Science Center Exhibits

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