Written by Claire Messenger, ITP Manager

How to create blended museum learning programmes

As the ITP team has created a blended annual programme for our cohort of fellows 2021 this was a theme close to our hearts and we were keen to learn from others experience across the sector.

Following the development of online learning delivery throughout the pandemic, this session, organised by the Group for Education in Museums (GEM) and Engage, explored the potential of blended learning as an approach for museum, gallery and heritage educators in the future.

GEM is for everyone interested in learning through museums, heritage and cultural settings with a mission of supporting and empowering their community of colleagues to connect and develop their knowledge and skills to deliver learning.

https://gem.org.uk/

Engage are the lead advocacy and training network for gallery education, representing arts educators, organisations, freelancers and artists from across the UK and over 20 countries worldwide.

https://engage.org/

This session enabled participants to learn from practical examples, build ideas and approaches for new models of interactive delivery. With examples of practice from National Museums Scotland and the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, the session addressed what types of digital learning should continue, what the challenges are and how to move towards a blended delivery model in the future.    

Vicky Sturrs, Head of Learning and Civic Engagement, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art https://baltic.art/ introduced us to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art which aims to create greater understanding of the world through outstanding, experimental and inspiring contemporary art which has power, relevance and meaning for individuals and communities.  The Baltic has no permanent collection but a series of spaces for exhibitions, performances, public and learning programmes which champion the role of artists in contemporary society.

Vicky started by sharing some pre-Pandemic and post-lockdown figures [see below].

She then shared some of the ways in which BALTIC’s programmes had changed during COVID.

  • Exhibitions went outside with art being displayed on bus stops, billboards and at metro stations.
  • Zoom workshops.
  • Meet and make sessions on YouTube with artists delivering project that could be done from home.
  • Online resources such as recipes and walking trails.

These blended learning programmes saw a 200% increase in engagement and a 50% increase in digital engagement.

The BALTIC reopened in May 2021 and they have needed to pivot their thinking from COVID and lockdown to reopening and consider how to manage expectations taking 18 months of of online learning to face-to-face working again.  Vicky wanted to be sure that they took the most successful elements of their digital programming and blend it with onsite projects and programmes.

What the BALTIC have learnt in the past 18 months?

  • Stick to your USP – your unique selling point.
  • Keep recorded content short – in their case they found films of two – five minutes had the best watch rate.
  • Consider your fee structure – does it take your contributors longer to work digitally?
  • Group content – this will make it easier for your users to benefit from your content.
  • Use active tasks to encourage movement and chat during online sessions.
  • Use music in the background of quieter activities to create a mood.
  • Have two contributors work together – great for sparking ideas and sharing energy.
  • Use the session to signpost the audience to future resources and content.

We then heard from Sarah Cowie, Engagement Manager, National Museums Scotland (NMS) https://www.nms.ac.uk/ where they care for collections of national and international importance, preserving them, interpreting them and making them accessible to as many people as possible.

They work with museums and communities across Scotland and beyond, introducing our collections to a much wider audience than can physically visit our museums, through partnerships, research, touring exhibitions, community engagement, digital programmes and loans.

And they have four museum sites: the National Museum of Scotland and National War Museum, in Edinburgh, the National Museum of Flight, in East Lothian and the National Museum of Rural Life in East Kilbride.

In 2020, NMS stared a consultation with teachers to ask them a crucial question – ‘what do you want?’.  The responses gave them invaluable information.

  • Most teachers had already started online learning so had the skills necessary to work digitally.
  • They wanted the focus to be on curriculum-linked resources.
  • They would prefer flexible and accessible resources.
  • They wanted expert input and to engage with the museums and objects.

So NMS created their Digital Schools Sessions to bring the museum to the classroom. The free sessions are led by a team of Enablers and cover the topics most requested by teachers, such as Second World War at the National Museum of Flight, ancient Egypt, Dinosaurs and the Romans.

https://www.nms.ac.uk/schools/digital-schools-sessions/

What National Museums Scotland have learnt?

  • They saw increased digital communication via a variety of platforms such as Twitter; SurveyMoneky, Padlet; Teams; YouTube etc.
  • They were able to be more flexible and inclusive.
  • Schools are seen as a priority audience.
  • The benefits of evaluation and consultation are clear.
  • They need to dedicate time to think and be creative.
  • The majority of schools and teachers want digital resources and some in person visits.

The learning outcomes from the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and National Museum Scotland clearly demonstrate that it is essential that we keep and develop what we’ve learnt and delivered during the pandemic.  Online learning programmes have enormous benefits and blending these with the best of what we can deliver in-person, is key to the future.