Education in Museums

Education in Museums: creating a learning culture through participation and outreach

By Adrian Murphy. Main Image: The Workers' Museum, Copenhagen where children play a part in the educational programmes from their concept

When it comes to education and learning in museums and galleries, there is nothing better than getting people involved in activities related to exhibitions and fostering a culture of participation.

That’s certainly the message from The National Museum of Computing, which is featured here in a special video, and from the Workers’ Museum, Copenhagen and Turner Contermporary, Margate that are Advisor’s two featured case studies.

Education in museums is important on many fronts and most importantly it connects the community to the museum and provides inspiration for both children and adults. As well as linking up to school curriculums (and in some cases creating new strands), museums can also respond to societal challenges such as health, well-being, immigration and workforce development. In doing so, educational programmes in museums can also provide opportunities for the more isolated, vulnerable and marginalised members of society to take part in activities and gain experiences, where they otherwise may not.

This was highlighted recently when Advisor filmed at The National Museum of Computing  (TNMOC) in Bletchley where learning manager, Claire Marston, has begun a series of relaxed openings for children with autism spectrum disorder.

The TNMOC won the Museums + Heritage Show Prize Fund of £1,000 in May and spent the money on equipment for the relaxed openings such as ear defenders and activity backpacks. And as one of the dozen or more parents, Rachael Flynn, whose 11-year-old son Jake has high-functioning autism and who features in the video, said: “Without the relaxed openings we wouldn’t be able to take the children to an event. And it’s not just Jake that it affects, it’s the siblings as well, so his brother, Sam. To be able to come to a museum and share the normal things of childhood is amazing.”

And it is also highlighted at the Workers’ Museum in Copenhagen where they have worked with refugees and immigrants, and Turner Contemporary where they have worked with adults with mental health issues.

These educational programmes are rarely free to produce, which is why all three museums featured in this In Focus feature have been able to find funding for many of their projects. And the benefits far outway the hard-work and challenges. They highlight that providing a mixed educational programme helps with the museum’s sustainability as it can ensure future visits from schoolchildren turning into adults and bringing their own children, trainee teachers becoming teachers and bringing along their pupils, and immigrants and refugees becoming citizens with a better perspective of their locality and future prospects.