HDC Library & Resources

Information, Environmental Education or Interpretation?

Information, Environmental Education & Interpretation... just what's the difference?

We are often asked what the differences is between information, environmental education & interpretation in terms of the visitor experience.

To quote Tilden; "Information is not necessarily interpretation, however all interpretation contains information".
Effective interpretation is not about what you say to an audience, but rather the way you say it. Information presented to visitors is just that, straight facts, figures and dates. A field guide to birds provides factual information about the bird species, but usually no real interpretation.

Environmental Education
Either the formal education process, or the hopeful result of a program or exhibit, can be presented in either an informational "instructional" approach or using an interpretive communication approach. Remember interpretation is a communication process; if the process works in presenting and translating the information about the environment in a way that is meaningful for the audience, then environmental education occurs.

Environmental education is only really effective if the recipient of the communication:

1) receives the message
2) understands the message
3) will actually remember the message, and
4) possibly USE the message in some way

We have seen many formal environmental education programs where very little environmental education occurred. Participants were presented inert information, remembered parts of the information, but probably really didn't understand the answers that they were giving back to the educator!

Conversely, we have also seen teachers in formal classroom environmental education programs use interpretation techniques that left their students inspired, motivated, and excited about learning more!

Interpretation is not topic or resource specific. The interpretation communication process can be used for the interpretation of any idea, concept, topic or subject. If interpretation is effective, then "education" can occur about the subject.

Interpretation is an objective driven, audience-focused process that accomplishes results. Interpretation uses marketing and advertising techniques, journalism strategies, and a host of other tools to deliver an interpretive outcome. Well executed interpretation is a fun, inspiring and motivating recreational learning experience!