Licence to experiment

The Manchester Museum by Night

Image, The Manchester Museum by Night

Because we work in a University museum, the learning team here in Manchester has a licence – you might even say a responsibility – to experiment, to innovate and to challenge our own thinking. A couple of years ago, when we conducted a critical review of the museum’s very successful and popular programme for schools and colleges, we asked ourselves difficult questions about what we were offering and why, and with the help of teachers and advisors, we identified areas for improvement. We realised that the programme did not make the best use of the spaces and resources that the museum can offer, and had not kept up with recent developments in education theory and practice.

The revised principles that emerged from our development work are the following. These may seem obvious to many of you, but we found they gave us a clear focus for our planning:

  • Learning in the museum should be dialogic, a two-way process that enables us to learn at the same time
  • It should be personalised, enabling learners to make sense of the collection in the context of their own lives
  • It should involve philosophy and imagination
  • It should provide the freedom to explore and make choices
  • It should be collaborative, a shared social experience
  • And it should be multi-sensory.

Animla Life at The Manchester Museum

Image, The Animal Life gallery at The Manchester Museum

In addition to the theories behind learning programmes, we also looked at how we measure the impact on learners. And this is another area where academics and practitioners often find it difficult to agree. Are there some aspects of learning we can measure and others we can’t, and if so, with the emphasis on collecting evidence of learning, is there a danger that our educational programmes will become restricted by these measurable outcomes?

Our revised programme at the Manchester Museum is less didactic and more fluid than it was – is this going to make it harder to demonstrate its effectiveness? If learning is about behavioural change, is it possible to record this on the day of the experience or does it require multiple or longitudinal evaluation? Perhaps what we can measure with the GLOs (remember Inspiring Learning for All?) is an awakening or an intention to change stimulated by the museum or gallery experience.


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