Monday, 13 May 2013

Connected Learning and Museums

As part of the Mozilla Webmasters "Teach the Web" course I've been reading about "Connected Learning" and I've been thinking about how Connected Learning works in a museum environment.

I will go through the "Learning", "Design" and "Core" principles of Connected Learning and explore how museums currently fit into the theory.

To start off, here's a image that helps to explain Connected Learning:

If you want to read more about Connected Learning, then this article is a good introduction.

Core Values

Equitywhen educational opportunity is available and accessible to all young people, it elevates the world we all live in.

It would be difficult to find a museum that did adhere to this particular value. However, it is the task of museums to ensure that all have access to the educational opportunities that they offer. Without a proactive approach it would only be the most-engaged and best-resourced that would access museum learning.

Full Participation - learning environments, communities, and civic life thrive when all members actively engage and contribute.

Again I imagine that all museums subscribe to this value. Museums do have a strong civic role in local communities and this is best done not by some sort of 'top-down' passing on of knowledge but by ensuring that all who visit museums are actively engaged in their learning.

Social connection - learning is meaningful when it is part of valued social relationships and shared practice, culture, and identity.

Museums can have a strong role in nurturing social relationships (whether this is a family/friendship group or is part of a learning group whether that is through schools to adult education). These social relationships can be fluid and based on the learning needs of participants. 

Learning Principles

Interest-powered - Interests power the drive to acquire knowledge and expertise. Research shows that learners who are interested in what they are learning, achieve higher order learning outcomes. Connected learning does not just rely on the innate interests of the individual learner, but views interests and passions as something to be actively developed in the context of personalized learning pathways that allow for specialized and diverse identities and interests.

Objects in a museum collection can serve a multiplicity of learning needs. Imagine that we present a group of people with a piece of 19th century embroidery known as a sampler done by an ten-year old girl. Here's an example of a sampler from the collection at Liverpool Museums:

Depending on the interests of the members of the group, there is much that can be learnt. A social historian will learn something different from a design student, a materials scientist or somebody who enjoys embroidery at home.

Peer-supported - Learning in the context of peer interaction is engaging and participatory. Research shows that among friends and peers, young people fluidly contribute, share, and give feedback to one another, producing powerful learning. Connected learning research demonstrates that peer learning need not be peer-isolated. In the context of interest-driven activity, adult participation is welcomed by young people. Although expertise and roles in peer learning can differ based on age and experience, everyone gives feedback to one another and can contribute and share their knowledge and views.

Museum visitors learning from each other is central to how museums can help people to learn. Imagine an exhibition on conflicts in which Britain has been involved in since the Second World War. Older visitors might remember the Suez Crisis or the Korean War; for slightly younger visitors it might be the Falklands conflict or the violence in Northern Ireland and for younger people they would find the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan more meaningful. It is not hard to imagine these different people sharing their thoughts and experiences based on the exhibition and so learn from each other.

Think about the group looking at the sampler. The different areas of expertise will begin to overlap as the group talks to each other. The design student can place his or her knowledge into a broader context by learning from the social historian. The embroidery enthusiast can tell the materials scientist which kinds of thread work best for an intended stitch.

Academically oriented - Educational institutions are centered on the principle that intellectual growth thrives when learning is directed towards academic achievement and excellence. Connected learning recognizes the importance of academic success for intellectual growth and as an avenue towards economic and political opportunity. Peer culture and interest-driven activity needs to be connected to academic subjects, institutions, and credentials for diverse young people to realize these opportunities. Connected learning mines and translates popular peer culture and community-based knowledge for academic relevance.

Frankly, an academically-orientated form of learning is not central to museum learning. Much of museum learning is experientially-based so academic rigour is less important. Of course, this is not to suggest that an academic orientation is not important. Museum learning could lead to a greater academic understanding. How many people have come out of a museum enthused about what they have seen and gone on to find out more?

Design Principles

Shared purpose - Connected learning environments are populated with adults and peers who share interests and are contributing to a common purpose. Today’s social media and web-based communities provide exceptional opportunities for learners, parents, caring adults, teachers, and peers in diverse and specialized areas of interest to engage in shared projects and inquiry. Cross-generational learning and connection thrives when centered on common interests and goals.

Much of this has already been covered. The immigrant group who have come together with a common goal (to improve their English); the group exploring a sampler (engaging with each other through an object) and the different generations visiting an exhibition of modern conflict. What museums do less is to use social media and web-based communities for discussion and learning.

Production-centered - Connected learning environments are designed around production, providing tools and opportunities for learners to produce, circulate, curate, and comment on media. Learning that comes from actively creating, making, producing, experimenting, remixing, decoding, and designing, fosters skills and dispositions for lifelong learning and productive contributions to today’s rapidly changing work and political conditions.

I covered this area in an Xtranormal video that I posted on YouTube a couple of weeks ago.

This is area were museums do not meet a principle of Connected Learning. Only a very few museums, such as the Smithsonian, actually allow learners to create and remix what is in their collections either on display or through their online databases.

Openly networked - Connected learning environments are designed around networks that link together institutions and groups across various sectors, including popular culture, educational institutions, home, and interest communities. Learning resources, tools, and materials are abundant, accessible and visible across these settings and available through open, networked platforms and public-interest policies that protect our collective rights to circulate and access knowledge and culture. Learning is most resilient when it is linked and reinforced across settings of home, school, peer culture and community.

Museums are actually pretty good at this. There are lots of examples of museums working with other learning providers such as schools, adult education providers and colleges and universities. Museums also work with other informal learning providers such as libraries or archives.