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AI In Museums : Learning Buddies of the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum

Linda Reiter and Anna Konrath of Fluxguide explain how they worked with the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum – the German Mining Museum – to create an innovative and personalised museum guide for visitors using avatars and a chat-bot format.

Based in Vienna, Fluxguide develops digital solutions for museums and cultural heritage organisations around the world. Providing consulting, conceptualisation and implementation services, Fluxguide has spent over a decade helping institutions create knowledge exploration solutions – from multimedia guides and digital education programs to digital exhibition spaces and app platforms.

One of the many interesting projects the Fluxguide team has worked on in recent years is the development of a visitor app with the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum. As Linda Reiter, Digital Concepts and Project Manager for Fluxguide, explains, “The project actually dates back to 2016 when the museum secured funding to pursue a new digital project designed to support schools and deliver educational content.”

“We began by working with the museum to create a visitor guide app. But over several years the app has grown and developed. Now it features lots of information, a game, an audio guide and, importantly, an avatar-based tool.”

Anna Konrath is Head of Projects for Fluxguide. She adds, “With so much content featured within the app, we needed to build it in a way we could easily guide the users to the parts of the app and the information that they were looking for – or that might benefit them most.”

“In conjunction with the museum, we explored the idea of providing users with a personal companion utilising a chat-based format. This is particularly effective for young users who may be coming to the museum as part of a school trip. We know that young users may not want to read pages and pages of information, but they are happy to ask questions, take prompts and engage in dialogue.”

“Kids these days are so used to chat-based environments, thanks to communication apps like WhatsApp. The digital platform of the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum builds on this premise and gets knowledge to kids in a format they are familiar with.”

A Virtual Companion for Your Museum Visit

The chat function is on hand within the app throughout a visitor’s physical tour to the museum, providing relevant content and answering questions based on the location of the digital device within the exhibition.

But the experience doesn’t stop there. As Linda explains, the app was updated with an important new feature in 2022: “Now, at the end of the tour, the avatar asks if it can continue to provide information to the users when they get home – becoming a longer-term “Learning Buddy”. This is a different area of the app, which offers push notifications to highlight content that may be of interest.”

Similar to other popular educational apps such as Duolingo, the Learning Buddy function prompts users if they have failed to engage for a couple of days. By encouraging regular and repeated learning sessions, users can build their knowledge over time – rewarded through the acquisition of stars and badges.

This gamification and reward system is now a proven tool across many mainstream apps, of course. And in conjunction with the museum, Fluxguide has utilised this approach to great effect. Linda notes: “The Learning Buddy is designed to keep the curiosity high and offer digital rewards. But regular use of the app and completing tasks also ultimately earns physical rewards for the user in the form of prizes from the museum.”

Anna explains that this dialogue-based format not only keeps users interested but also serves an important purpose in supporting learning and helping students to retain information. She says, “Over the last ten years we’ve learned that passively consuming information isn’t the best way of gathering knowledge and remembering facts. By making things interactive, memorable and competitive we’ve seen that users retain much more of the content that is shared with them.”

Linda adds, “We like creating digital solutions for teens because we know that this audience is always keen to explore technology. Teenagers are also very critical and they are honest with their feedback, which helps us to work hard to always improve things.”

Looking to the Future: AI-powered Content in Museums

Of course, delivering an endless supply of content to avid users of the platform isn’t an easy feat. While much of the content in the early stages has been drawn from the museum’s pre-existing library of stories and assets, the point has now been reached where new content is being required – a labour-intensive task.

The Fluxguide team currently work closely with the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum to meet this challenge and generate suitable content manually – a testament to the commitment of the museum. But Linda and Anna also note that advances in generative AI (artificial intelligence) tools may soon make this a less demanding and laborious task. Linda says, “We have been having conversations around the potential expansion of our use of AI. We are exploring the potential for a ChatGPT-based solution that would make content creation more efficient and cost-effective.”

The potential for this new development is particularly interesting when worked around the preferences of the user based on previous app activity. The kind of content a user has shown most interest in, the time of day they prefer to consume content and a number of other variables can all be used to optimise the chat engine, according to Anna and Linda.

Furthermore, Linda suggests that AI could play an important role in adapting a wide variety of content – academic papers and scientific research, for example. Using generative AI could help to translate dense and complex content into more accessible, bitesize and easy-to-digest material – particularly if made available using the chat-bot, messenger format:

“We are looking into the technical possibilities of connecting our content management system with ChatGPT and developing integrated tools that will help take this chat-bot format to the next level. There are many possibilities in this space.”

Anna concludes, “Museums have a mandate to educate and be accessible. But there are still a lot of barriers to entry for many museums. This kind of tool helps to provide a low threshold and engages learners in different ways – not the traditional classroom experience or museum visit.

“To make the most of this kind of project we’ve found that it really takes a museum with motivated staff, like the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum, that wants to invest time, energy and creativity into an engaging product that showcases their content and stories.”

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