Wednesday, 20 July 2011

New museum online learning content strategy - your thoughts please

Update 25 July - I should just add a bit of a disclaimer/explanation here:
1. This thinking isn't related to the work I do in my paid work, more just me rolling ideas around in my head about museum online learning generally
2. This isn't particularly the start of a strategy document, more just some ideas about a modus operandi/working principles (maybe strategy with a small 's'?) for museum online learning.
Original post:
I was part of the workshop to critically evaluate the National Musuems Online Learning Project webquests yesterday and as ever, when I step away from my desk, the curtain opened in my brain and I was able to think more broadly then I ever can normally about my job and how I go about it.

Some thoughts developed which I want to expand upon about what a museum online learning strategy should be about and this germ of an idea is brewing in my head that I'd like to hear people's thoughts and comments on.  It's very much a germ of an idea at the moment and I'm sure it has lots of disadvantages so I'd really appreciate your feedback.

What would you think of a museum online learning strategy that set out the following:

1. Online learning resources for schools and colleges that sit on the Museum's website should be in the following forms:

A) A bank of object images with contextual information about them that teachers/tutors/students can download and use for educational use

B) A set of short introductions to the topics that the museum is an authority on

C) A set of short films with schools/colleges as the target audience where a curator talks about particular objects and what you can learn from them

D) A set of relatively light-touch/low-tech pre-visit (and possibly post-visit) resources that support the school/college sessions run by the Museum.  These might be in PPT or SMART notebook or something and would simply serve to introduce key concepts and objects that relate to the session.
In other words the stuff on a museum websites is relatively unprescriptive and is about opening up our 'stuff' and making it available to educators to do what they want with it.

2) All material where the primary aim is to provide a learning experience online that is independent to a face-to-face museum session (and I think this particularly applies to informal learning material online, and to more prescriptive and structured formal learning which does a lot of the teaching for the teacher) e.g. an online game, or an interactive story should do the following :

A) If it is for schools/colleges, pick on particular topic or area of a topic and create a resource to support that area of the curriculum

B) Be developed in partnership with other organisations who have authority on that subject

C) Be developed in partnership with commercial and other big organisations who are already providing this kind of content or where the target audience are already spending time. The idea would be for an equal partnership where funds and resources were put in from both parties

D) Emphasis is put on the findability of the resource from the start

E) Significant budget/resources are set aside for marketing the resource

F) Potentially sit on an independent URL or a place where the target audience are already spending time rather than on the museum's website (Update: 25 July - this is an addition that I meant to put in and realised I'd omitted)

These ideas are based on the following assumptions/observations/thoughts:

  • There's no point in museums trying to compete for people's attention and leisure time with online activities which are much better funded than museums are ever likely to be.
  • People will only come to museum websites either if they know that there is material there or if they find it by accident in Google.
  • We have limited resources both in terms of budget and staff time and it's vital that we channel our energies wisely.
Please please feel free to use the comments to let me know what you think. I'd really value some discussion on this and so I hope it gets people thinking and chatting. Over to you!

Labels: , ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great start to a strategy Rhiannon! You've covered most bases. I particularly like targeting curatorial short films for specific audiences. The concept of working with other institutions is also a good one, there definitely needs to be more scope for collaboration in online learning resources. For example with the short films working with SUMO for Ask a Curator could be a really good partnership.

I would also think more about informal learning in an online learning strategy. I know schools are the primary focus for online learning resources, but there needs to be more definition as to what resources are required for informal learners, and how to go about providing them.

What about serendipitous discovery of resources? Does that need to be mentioned in an online strategy? Also currently, your strategy just focuses on the website itself, what about extending the strategy and your content? If working with other institutions is an aim, would the produced content just be on the main museum website? What is the strategy for placing your content elsewhere? How do you share it?

Also resources for those in HE would also be beneficial considering, what is the best way to reach out to this relevantly untapped audience?
Then there is also the participatory side of online learning... what is the best way to incorporate visitor dialogue into an online strategy?

Sorry a bit of a ramble as the thoughts came tumbling out my head. More questions then answers!

21 July 2011 at 08:54  
Anonymous Paul Davies said...

A good structure Rhiannon and well thought-out.

I think point 2C (develop in partnership) is going to be increasingly crucial for museums and other cultural organisations whose budget doesn't always cover the more ambitious learning tools. Our recent consultancy for the HLF has shown that there are plenty of resources being developed which organisations can use for free but often don't know they exist.

In particular I am thinking of the excellent Historypin project (, SCVNGR trails ( and many other smaller projects such as the awesome Ecobugs iPhone game all available for schools and organisations to use and promote.

It would be great if there was a place where cultural organisations could go online to find all of these resources. Hmm, now there's an idea, maybe we should create one.

21 July 2011 at 12:47  
Blogger Rhiannon Looseley said...

Claire - thanks a lot for all your thoughts here - some really important things to think about in an online learning strategy.

I think maybe I was a bit misleading in my post which was slightly rushed. I wasn't particularly intending this to be the start of a strategy document, more, I suppose, a modus operandi for museum online learning. What I was really rolling around in my head was the theory of being quite strict about the kinds of content that sits on a museum's website and the kinds that sit outside of it, and are developed in partnership because the ways in which people find them, and their expectations of what they find will differ.

25 July 2011 at 16:50  
Blogger Rhiannon Looseley said...

Paul - thanks for your comments and for your list of interesting free resources that are definitely worth museums, especially smaller ones, checking out. A central place to look for all of these could certainly be useful.

25 July 2011 at 16:52  
Blogger Rhiannon Looseley said...

PS Claire - I realised I had forgotten to put the bit about the second category of resources sitting on other websites/independent websites which was fairly crucial - so thanks, your comment made me re-read what I'd written and realise that!

25 July 2011 at 17:02  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Rhiannon - finally got around to commenting..

I think this is a really good set of guiding principles. The key thing for me for material like this (in fact, any [museum] material) is that people can #1/ find it and #2/ use it. This sounds obvious but I think quite often organisations focus on #2 without thinking about #1.

As per the meeting the other day - which I also found really interesting - I think the quantity of available material for these audience is often huge. The challenge is therefore huge too - with gazillions of quality resources out there on the web it becomes very hard indeed to get noticed.

The marketing angle therefore does become the "poke it into their world" model rather than the "sit back and wait for them to come" model. The former is inevitably about social media nowadays but could also be simply about understanding where learning people hang out, and hanging out there with them..

25 July 2011 at 20:54  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home