HDC Library & Resources

The Difference Between Information and Heritage Interpretation

Information, environmental education & heritage interpretation... just what's the difference?

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


To quote Freeman Tilden; "Information is not necessarily interpretation, however all heritage interpretation contains information".

Effective heritage interpretation is not about what you say to an audience, but rather the way you say or present it. Information presented to visitors is just that, straight facts; data, specifications, categories, figures and dates. A field guide to birds provides factual information about bird species: identification colours and plumage, sound of the call, feeding habits and migration routes, but usually no real heritage interpretation. Remember for something to be interpretive it must: "Provoke", "Relate", "Reveal", "Address the whole" and "Have message unity"!

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, dry 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 heritage interpretation techniques that left their students inspired, motivated, and excited about learning more!

Heritage Interpretation

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

Heritage 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!