Back to the future

Sharon Heal, 25.09.2013
Museums learning: what has been achieved and what is yet to be done?
I’ve been thinking a lot about learning in museums lately.
 
This has been prompted by a couple of news stories about the impact of cuts on education visits; the Future of Museums Learning Report commissioned by Arts Council England; and the fall in the number of children visiting museums in England.
 
Last week I attended the final conference of the Learning Museum project, which provided more food for thought on this subject.
 
The aim of this European-wide project was to build partnerships between institutions to explore the potential of museums in lifelong learning and to raise the profile of this work with decision-makers at national and European level.
 
Working groups covered subjects as diverse as museums and the ageing population; audience research and learning styles; learning facilities; and intercultural dialogue. Some of the results make for interesting reading.

The report from the group that looked at new trends in the 21st century provides some thought-provoking data.

A survey in the report garnered 185 responses from institutions in Europe, North America, South America and Asia. The activities that showed the greatest level of decline were tours, talks, exhibition programming and workshops – with the main reason for the decline cited as lack of funding, budget cuts and a reduction in staff.
 
This is worrying as they are exactly the type of activities that get visitors through the door in the first place and then keep them coming back.

The working group on learning spaces also found a drop off in the number of new learning spaces that are being created compared to the boom years at the beginning of the last decade.

There’s been lots of anecdotal evidence about the impact of cuts on learning and this appears to add to it.

Of course there’s no point in just moaning about the cuts (although some hard data on their impact on learning would be useful). But what would be even more useful is some research of the depth and quality of David Anderson’s 1999 A Common Wealth Report.

Perhaps now is the time to go back to that document, look at what’s been achieved – substantial steps forward have been taken – and what is still to do. And then take action.
 
Tomorrow’s world is a theme at this year’s Museums Association conference
 

Comments

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Jack Kirby
MA Member
Head of Collections, MOSI
27.09.2013, 00:10
Actually Anderson's report was called A Common Wealth, and after some considerable digging I've found it <a href="http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20080611005143/http://www.culture.gov.uk/reference_library/publications/4717.aspx">archived</a> for anyone who missed it first time round - note that confusingly the two PDF sections are reversed.
Jack Kirby
MA Member
Head of Collections, MOSI
27.09.2013, 00:11
Sandra Stancliffe
MA Member
Head of Education, Engllish Heritage
26.09.2013, 15:54
I couldn't agree more Sharon. There has never been a better time for a follow up to A Commonwealth. After 23 years in museum and heritage education I find I still have to make the same blindingly obvious justifications for education services. Progress was made under Renaissance, but not everywhere and now it seems as though we are backtracking fast. Perhaps the MA could commission GEM to do it?!