Flexible learning

Julie Nightingale, 07.03.2019
Blended courses, which can be done part on campus, part online, are making it easier to earn while you learn
Studying part-time is an attractive option for people already working in a museum and looking to develop their skills further, but also for students new to the sector who may be career-changers and need to carry on earning money.

Universities are increasingly aware of the need for people to be able to learn in their own time rather than be tied to a rigid timetable and the number of flexible and “blended” – part on campus, part online – courses is growing.

Birkbeck, part of the University of London, was a pioneer of flexible learning and all its courses are part-time, with teaching mainly in the evenings. It offers an MA and MRes in museum cultures, which are studied over two years. Uli Gamper graduated with an MA in December 2018.

He was attracted by Birkbeck’s excellence in research and its diverse student body, but also its accessibility for non-traditional students, being an evening university. He had access to the same opportunities as any full-time student elsewhere.

“There were many good things about my course,” says Gamper, who is now a curator at the Crafts Council. “The top two were a work placement with the Victoria and Albert Museum in the first year and a fellowship with the British Council at the Venice Biennale in the second year, the latter funded by Birkbeck and the British Council.

“The biggest challenge was to keep a healthy work-life balance as I worked full-time through most of my course. Having said that, I also enjoyed late evenings and weekends in the library very much.”

Gamper adds: “During the first part of the course I worked in a fast-paced independent gallery, where our team organised two to three exhibitions a year. At one point, I was also doing an internship elsewhere and had one day off per week, so it became vital to manage weekdays accordingly. I found that one to two hours of study in the morning before going to work very fruitful.

“At times, I studied in the evening and weekends, too, but aimed to have some free time, even in busy periods. Although that was a challenge, it was beneficial for me to carry on with work while studying.”

The University of Leicester, another pioneer of flexible learning, is introducing a new version of its distance-learning museum studies course this year. It features online lectures, live online seminars, online discussion activities plus an optional week-long summer school with two entry points, April and October.

The new structure means it is possible for students to take a single module as continued professional development, take a break and then return to their studies within five years to complete a postgraduate diploma or the full master’s qualification.