From sea to screen: Bringing the ocean inland with online learning at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Tuesday, April 4th: 1:30pm - 3:00pm


Education Programs Director @ Monterey Bay Aquarium
Principal @ Audience Focus
Museums Education & Digital Experience Designer + Audience Evaluation @ Independent Contractor & Collaborator @ Audience Focus

Paper Abstract

While museums have been providing distance learning opportunities for over thirty years, the demand for online education programs skyrocketed in the unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic. Environmental organizations faced the added challenge of moving outdoor education to digital platforms. The Monterey Bay Aquarium responded by rapidly developing English and Spanish self-paced online courses for PK-12 students and their caregivers. Designed to help learners build empathy for animals, connect to local outdoor spaces, and take conservation action, these free online courses have since attracted more than 55,000 enrollments from more than 95 countries.

In 2022, the Aquarium partnered with Audience Focus for an in-depth study of the online courses, uncovering the motivations and satisfaction of the courses’ main audiences. It also measured how well the courses met the intended learning outcomes, and how they impacted user affinity for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Audience Focus devised various methods to measure the Aquarium’s success in developing students’ empathy for wildlife and environmental identity with the courses. Using innovative embedded assessments, the evaluation showed that courses specifically designed around less-loved animals (such as sharks) led to large jumps in animal empathy. It also showed that students’ confidence in their ability to take environmental action increased, especially in courses for older students.

We will also address:
– The surprising finding that 40% of online learners described their communities as rural or small towns;
– Our approach to rapidly designing and releasing courses in creative sprints based in an Agile Scrum framework;
– Our innovative use of embedded assessments to gather data from children;
– Strategies for measuring empathy and environmental identity with children;
– The expanding opportunity for digital engagement with early learners (preK-2), in particular.


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keywords: distance learning, empathy, aquarium, online learning, rural, environmental identity
Proposal Url:
ID: 11044