Monday, April 1, 2013

Why Not MOOseums?

I have been interested in museums for a long time, with a special concern for museum effectiveness in offering open, informal or free-choice learning for the visitor. I've recently written about this (Barr 2013: online at

"There are plenty of fascinating things about museums. And one of the most intriguing is that during the 20th century anyway, museums have been one of the few places where adults (and children) could experience informal or free-choice learning. During that century, the educational mandate rose to become one of the primary goals of most museums."

But that museum focus has been almost entirely onsite. Museum learning has been mostly for those who walk through the doors.

"In spite of the speed with which museums embraced the world wide web, few of them seem to have become equally enthusiastic about the prospect of expanding their on-site educational activities into the online environment. Meanwhile, the rest of the world, including most of the mainstream educational institutions are taking up online learning, or E-Learning in a big way. The internet has meant that the potential museum visitor today has many [new] options for free-choice learning."

Combining the museum mandate with the learning potential of MOOCs, especially cMOOCs, seems to me like a natural. Why not MOOseums (massively open online museum learning).

All one would need is for existing museum education staff to gain some familiarity with cMOOC structure and develop some facility with digital literacy. The informative content is already available in the form of label text from a hundred past exhibits and the websites of not only their own but also dozens of sister institutions.

The connectivist learning opportunities offered through cMOOCs offer a whole new dimension to museum learning. As in other fields, the museum specialist staff can become facilitators instead of instructors. Group learning activities in this type of course are likely to far exceed the experience of learning on the museum visit alone.

The new MOOC experience should function as an "extension of the visitor experience for museums. The museum visitor who has enjoyed an online learning offering before arriving at the museum will not only come armed with a pre-ignited enthusiasm for seeing the actual artifacts, but can also spend more time examining and appreciating those artifacts and less time reading the wall-mounted didactics."

"The museum visitor who delves into online learning after the visit can re-kindle the excitement of the museum experience and be more highly motivated to undertake additional museum visits in the future."

[This posting is for Activity 12 (Week 4) of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. All text and graphics are released under a Creative Commons Attribution license. The museum logo is by Otterinfo, CC license]

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