Innovations in Digital Learning but no benchmarks…yet

(C) UCL, Grant Museum of Zoology / Matt Clayton

A while back I had a lovely phone conversation with Rebecca Atkinson from the Museums Association about digital learning in museums.  If I’m honest I had completely forgotten about it, mostly due to the fact that I rambled a lot and thought poor Rebecca had her work cut out to make any sense out of me.  But her recent post on the Museums Computer Group about Exhibition Labels reminded me and low and behold the article is up and on the Museum Practice site and I make sense! Hooray! It’s behind a membership login but in essence I wanted to highlight the fact that museums using digital technology should provide an opportunity for people to think rather than just observe.

“This means letting people find connections with objects on a personal level,”   Visitors will gain more from this experience; it breaks down barriers between museums as the keepers of objects and visitors.  I used the QRator project as a case study to show how we have been putting this concept into practice. Using technology developed at UCL CASA and UCLDH based upon the Tales of Things infrastructure; visitors can create their own interpretation to museum objects as well as giving their own opinions about difficult questions museum curators face.

There are wonderful examples of brilliant work being undertaken in digital learning, both online and in the galleries: The Museum of London’s pocket histories and their NFC tags around the gallery, The British Museum’s stella work at the Digital Samsung Centre, the excellent Compass lounge at the National Maritime Museum, BMAG’s pre Raphaelite resource, and My Learning managed through Leeds Museums and Galleries just to name a few.  There are many many more.

But one of the key things I spoke about in the article is the need to know the impact of our digital learning projects.  Museums evaluate face-to-face workshops and utilise Generic Learning Outcomes as a system of measurement for learning workshops, but this isn’t done when it comes to digital learning. It should be.  I’m not talking about how to measure online success, metrics are great. But as far as I’m aware there is yet to be a generic digital learning strategy or any clear benchmarks to look at for the work that we do.   I’m not suggesting that museums stop working with digital technology to create learning experiences, far from it.  There are enough projects around now to get good ideas from, I just think we are missing a strategic opportunity to evaluate and consolidate our practice.  Perhaps we all need to sit down and think about creating a document of best practice when it comes to cultural digital learning, so we can carry on making better digital learning experiences for our audiences.

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