THIS HAS MADE ZOOS VULNERABLE TO CRITICISM, AND FURTHER RESEARCH IS NEEDED. ZOO-BASED RESEARCH OF THIS NATURE IS OFTEN DRIVEN BY AN INSTITUTIONAL NEED TO ASSESS WHETHER EDUCATIONAL GOALS SET BY THE ZOO ARE BEING MET.
We believe that broader social research is necessary to assess the true impact of zoo-based education. It is a requirement of many accreditation bodies that zoos provide education to their visitors, either formally for informally.
Many zoos have made strong claims about the educational impacts of their establishments, and to some degree education may be used as a justification for the existence of zoos. However, there is a lack of evidence to show that the claims made by zoos in relation to their educational impact are true. Often, these claims may be based on the quantity of educational provision rather than the known impact of that provision.
Researchers in zoos want to know whether their zoo’s targeted educational programme has helped visitors to meet the learning outcomes set by the zoo. Because of this, research projects are often designed with the expectation of finding an improvement, and there is no method of assessment for a negative result. We believe that this is unhelpful, as it is important to explore negative results in order to improve any flaws in the educational provision available.
Zoos often measure learning against the learning outcomes they have devised. We suggest that this is not the best strategy, as visitors may have their own motivations for visiting that do not align with the outcomes set by the zoo. This approach can also limit the scope of educational research, as the focal point is the zoo learning outcomes and other outcomes may not be accounted for. We believe that research should be expanded so as to uncover unexpected results, as again, this would assist in making any necessary improvements or changes to educational activities.
We also suggest that educational research in zoos should use a mixed methods approach and involve collection of both quantitative and qualitative data, rather than relying on quantitative data alone. This may also help to uncover any unexpected findings.
Moss, A. & Esson, M. 2013. The educational claims of zoos: where do we go from here?, Zoo Biology, 32, 13-18.