lifelong learning and museums

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Presentation at the Museums Australia Futures Forum event held in Canberra on 19-20 May 2008


  • 1. What does lifelong learning mean for museums in a Web 2.0 world?


  • In 1916 Benjamin Gilman wrote:
  • ... an inordinate amount of physical effort is demanded of the ideal visitor by the present methods in which we offer most objects to his inspection. ... Indeed, we may even go further and claim that in some proportion of the objects put on public view in every museum the qualities for which they are shown are rendered wholly invisible by the way they are shown. They are so placed and in such lighting that it is a physical impossibility by any exertion of limb or eye to descry the particular characteristics to which they owe their selection for show.

Long history of audience research 3. 4.

  • 1987 Valerie Beer
  • 1992 Falk & Dierking
  • 1998 George Hein
  • 1998 Janette Griffin
  • 2002 Leinhardt, Crowley & Knutson
  • 2007 Kelly

Learning studies 5.

  • Focus on diverse audiences
  • Focus on niche audiences
  • Focus on bookends
    • the very young and the old
  • Get designers to be more visitor-focussed
  • Understand how 10 year olds are learning
  • Focus on unsexy audiences

A lifelong learning approach means we must 6. Im Josh. Ive come to the Museum three times now with our NOVA employment training group to see Lynda and tell her about what we like in exhibitions. I really liked the Monsters because it was fun to see Inspector Gadget and the big crocodile from Peter Pan, it looked so much more scary up close than when we went to the movies. Whodunit was a really hard exhibition to visit because I cant concentrate for too long and there was too much writing and hard things to do. When we came last time Grace came with us. Shes in a wheelchair. We found it a bit hard getting around with the sloping floors, and the parking took a lot to arrange as well. Oh well, this happens to us a lot and I think that museums should really think better about that cos Grace loves getting out and she always has at least three people visiting with her. They always look for friendly places to visit when they find somewhere they go there lots and talk about it all the time! What I really want to do is to visit the Museum justwith my friend Alex, kind of in like, a club where mum will know that Ill be safe and looked after, and she wont have to worry too much, even though I am 19! Id really tell all my friends at Nova about that and get them to join too. NOTE: Image removed for privacy purposes 7.

  • The Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution has been pleased to confer upon me the honourable but arduous duties of the care of the Childrens Room. He has at his service so many men learned in natural history that I do not know why he has chosen me, who knows so little about it, unless perhaps its because these gentlemen may possibility not be also learned in the ways of children, for whom this little room is meant. It has been my purpose to deserve his confidence, and to carry out what I believe to be his intention, by identifying myself with the interests of my young clients. Speaking, therefore, on their behalf and as one of them, I should say that we never have a fair chance in museums. We cannot see things on the top shelves, which only grown-up people are tall enough to look into, and most of the things we can see and would like to know about have Latin words on them which we cannot understand: some things we do not care for at all, and other things which look entertaining have nothing on them to tell us what they are about. ... We think there is nothing in the world more entertaining than birds, animals, and live things; and next to these is our interest in the same things, even though they are not alive; and next to this the same things, even though they are not alive; and next to this is to read about them. All of us care about them and some of us hope to care for them all our lives long. We are not very much interested in Latin names, and however much they may mean to grown-up people, we do not want to have our entertainment spoiled by it being a lesson. (Samuel P. Langley, 1901)

Young children 8.

  • Understand where people are accessing information
  • AND
  • Add value to that

We also need to 9. 10.

  • Focus on our points of difference
  • Our own collections and research

And we must 11. NOTE: Image removed for privacy purposes 12.

  • Get over the learning vs. education vs. entertainment issue

As well, we need to 13.

  • Be more challenging, provocative and controversial
  • Use provocations
  • Include visitor voice

We also must 14.

  • Recognise how Web 2.0 and social media:
    • will impact on the physical visit
    • will change the ways people learn in our physical spaces
    • will change the ways we work
    • are both based within constructivist principles

Finally, we must 15.

  • Constructivist exhibitions (Hein)
  • Free choice
  • Many entry points
  • No specific path
  • Prior knowledge and experience
  • User-controlled
  • Visited in own time or structured educational experience
  • Many points of view
  • Museum seen as authority
  • Experimentation, conjecture, conclusions
  • Leisure, entertainment & learning
  • Difficult to update
  • Social media/Web 2.0
  • Free choice
  • Many entry points
  • No specific path
  • Prior knowledge, experience andinterests
  • User-controlled
  • Visited inown time & place , may be part of structured educational experience
  • Many points of view
  • Shared authority
  • Experimentation, conjecture, conclusions,collaboration
  • Leisure, entertainment & learning
  • Constantly up-to-date & changing

16. Web 2.0 puts users and not the organisation at the centre of the equation. This is threatening, but also exciting in that it has the potential to lead to richer content, a more personal experience. Mike Ellis and Brian Kelly,Web 2.0: How to Stop Thinking and Start Doing: Addressing Organisational Barriers,April 2007 17.

  • Move from research to implementation
  • Museum 3.0 in 2018:
    • enables learners, users, visitors to became participants wherevertheyare and howevertheychoose

Call to action 18.