Learning Conversations in Museums

Learning Conversations in Museums

Learning Conversations in Museums

Learning Conversations in Museums

Synopsis

What do people learn from visiting museums and how do they learn it? The editors approach this question by focusing on conversations as both the process and the outcome of museum learning. People do not come to museums to talk, but they often do talk. This talk can drift from discussions of managing the visit, to remembrances of family members and friends not present, to close analyses of particular objects or displays. This volume explores how these conversations reflect and change a visitor's identity, discipline-specific knowledge, and engagement with an informal learning environment that has been purposefully constructed by an almost invisible community of designers, planners, and educators. Fitting nicely into a small but rapidly expanding market, this book presents: *one of the first theoretically grounded set of studies on museum learning; *an explicit presentation of innovative and rich methodologies on learning in museums; *information on a variety of museums and subject matter; *a study on exhibitions, ranging from art to science content; *authors from the museum and the academic world; *a range of methods--from the analysis of diaries written to record museum visits, to studies of preservice teachers using pre- and post-museum visit tests; *an examination of visitors ranging from age 4-75 years of age, and from known and unknown sample populations; and *a lens that examines museum visits in a fine grained (1 second) or big picture (week, year long) way.

Excerpt

Museums are among our preeminent cultural institutions for learning. Museums are where society gathers, preserves, and displays visible records of social, scientific, and artistic accomplishments; where society supports scholarship that extends knowledge from paleontology to meteorites; and where people of all ages turn to build understandings of culture, history, and science. People visit museums for a wide variety of reasons: to pass time with friends, to find a moment of calm in a hectic life, to come to know a particular locale and its values, or to learn. People visit as individuals, families, school groups, or groups of friends. Some people visit museums regularly, others rarely. Some visitors track particular art forms or events whereas others just find themselves with time on their hands and choose to spend it at a museum.

What do people learn from visiting museums and how do they learn it? We approach this question by focusing on conversations as both the process and the outcome of museum learning. People do not come to museums to talk, but they often do talk. This talk can drift from discussions of managing the visit, to remembrances of family members and friends not present, to close analyses of particular objects or displays. This volume explores how these conversations reflect and change a visitor's identity, discipline-specific knowledge, and engagement with an informal learning environment.

The question of how to consider learning in museums has long been of interest to museum developers, directors, curators, educators, and funders. There have been many prior studies of museum learning, although many of these studies have differed in what they considered learning to be. Approaches to learning in museums have ranged from information accumulation and time-on-task (e.g., Anderson & Lucas, 1997; Borun, Chambers, Dritsas, & Johnson, 1997; Cone & Kendall, 1978; Sandifer, 1997; Serrell, 1995, 1977), to affective responses and emotional reminiscences (e.g., McManus, 1993; Stevenson, 1991), to meaning making and constructivism (e.g., Doering & Pekarik, 1996; Falk & Dierking, 2000; Gelman, Massey, & McManus, 1991; Hein, 1998; Silverman, 1993).

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