“The Marcus Institute for Digital Education in the Arts (MIDEA), the museum-focused branch of the New Media Consortium (NMC), released the 2010 Horizon Report: Museum Edition. This specially-focused edition of the annual Horizon Report series considers technology use in museum settings. The report identifies and describes six emerging technologies that will likely have a significant impact on museum education and interpretation in the next one to five years.” As with the earlier Horizons report, it’s so full of information and ideas that have done three posts, with this first one discussing the four key trends they have identified.
“‘Rich’ media — images, videos, audio, augmented reality and animations — are becoming increasingly valuable assets in digital interpretation.” (page 4). This means that we are in a position to fully embrace “multimodal learning” using all the rich assets of the physical collections and the information available in a digital form. As they note: “This trend is beneficial to museum professionals and visitors alike as it encourages a deeper understanding of objects, ideas, and audiences.” Certainly our work with school students found that they want to engage with objects in their physical form, while having and exciting social experience where they can Google the information they want later, in their own time and place.
“Digitization and cataloguing projects will continue to require a significant share of museum resources. (page 4). The note that this is a significant resource issue as “... visitors expect to be able to readily access accurate and interesting information, and especially high-quality media.” Certainly while visitors do expect to be able to access information they don’t necessarily need high-quality media as they can usually get this elsewhere anyway and museums just cannot compete with the resources other places put in to developing these (I’m thinking gaming for example).
“Increasingly, museum visitors (and staff) expect to be able to work, learn, study, and connect with their social networks in all places and at all times using whichever device they choose.” (page 4) I’ve discussed this before and it’s not a new idea. Indeed, constructivism, a popular pedagological approach in museums through the 1990s to now, also encourages this kind of thinking and learning for museum visitors. It’s just now the tools have changed and become more accessible. This is a key trend that will not go away and museums need to plan for this in their physical spaces. As Ralph Appelbaum said in 2008 ‘Visitors will come to museums with more technology in their pockets than in the entire museum’ and we are increasingly moving into an app-driven world (Wired, August 17 2010, Pew Internet, September 15 2010).
“The abundance of resources and relationships offered by open content repositories and social networks is challenging us to revisit our roles as educators.” (page 4) Yes, … and no. As mentioned above constructivism (and to a greater degree socio-cultural theory) have forced educators in general to think about their role as “facilitators” rather than as “teachers.” Work around meaning making and identity in museums also recognised this some time ago as ways that visitors engage with museums. As the report says: “The model of the museum curator
or educator standing in front of an object interpreting meaning for a passive audience is no longer realistic in a world accustomed to instant access to virtually any kind of information.” Yes, then why are museums still doing exhibitions that have objects and traditional labels and text? And why are museums still using worksheets and facilitated, formal education sessions? Why do so many museums fail to consult their audiences when planning and developing new and exisrting programs?
A note on social learning
The Horizon report is lacking on this area. The noted educationalist and all-round Renaissance man, John Dewey (1859-1952) talked about learning from both an individual and social perspective, concluding that learning was a lifelong experience that involved growth through personal judgment and the capacity to act intelligently in new situations. Learning is the interplay and interaction of objective (external) and internal factors, as well as a transition between the individual and the environment at the time. Dewey argued that the social situation was the key to learning, a shared common experience requiring an impulse and a desire through interaction with the environment. He saw the “directing” of learning not as an exercise of power, but as a shared group event, given that learners are part of a community held together by common goals. (Kelly, 2007).
For a comprehensive review of the museum learning literature see Chapter 2 of my thesis, downloadable here, George Hein’s classic 1998 book, Learning in the Museum, also addressed many of these issues.