Digital Informal Learning

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Stuart Berry

Welcome to the Summer Holiday edition of the DLNET blog!  At this time of year most museums, heritage sites and arts venues traditionally turn to a wealth of family-friendly informal learning activities to entice visitors inside, add value to their visit and of course to continue to promote and encourage engagement with the organisations’ collections and core values.  Visitors don’t necessarily do informal learning activities with the intention of learning something, but often with the intent of enjoying themselves.  This short post is intended as a very quick overview of the sorts of ways that the cultural sector can engage with informal learners using digital media.


Downloadable Resources

This is perhaps the most straightforward example of digital informal learning, although it is only digital in that it is simply delivered online for people to download and print.  Colouring-in, word-searches, dot-to-dots, mazes and puzzles are all relatively easily created.  They can be linked to whatever subject or content you choose, and made available through your website to be downloaded and used by whichever audience you intend.  The scope here is virtually endless, activities could be rainy-day activities for families to do together at before or after a visit.  Activities could be stand-alone, or might be only achievable when done in conjunction with a visit.  They might involve going out and exploring the landscape.  This is a potentially low-tech solution, delivered through a high-tech medium.  Just make sure you have copyright permission for any images or any other copyrightable aspect of your resource.

The Woodland Trust’s Nature Detectives site is a great example of how to make this work; also, sign-up to their e-newsletter and you’ll be notified when their resources change with the seasons:


Online Games

Simple online games are something that we are all familiar with.  Some can be very simple and straightforward, and some can be more complicated.  Online games can often double up and be used in the classroom, but can also be used at home on a laptop or desktop, and increasingly websites are becoming more mobile-friendly for gaming on the move.  Often aimed at younger users, the games will involve simple animations and puzzles.

The My Learning website has a wealth of resources from the museums, libraries and archives sector primarily aimed at formal learners, but many of the games are fun and might while away a few educational minutes have a look at:

Beyond the sector, the BBC does a good job of this too, have a look at their Cbeebies pages for examples of educational TV-show tie-ins:


Smartphone Apps

Smartphones and the apps we use have a wealth of potential.  However, it is true to say that the most popular apps are the most simple; social networks such as Facebook and Twitter make use of photographic and GPS technology that is built-in to smartphones.  Many smartphone games make use of gyroscopes, but just as many do not.  The unique feature of the smartphone is often it’s ability to access the internet from virtually anywhere, although there are many apps that do not require an active internet connection.

One of my favourite examples of an arts related smartphone app is the Tate’s ‘Top Trumps’-style app that has players hunting for imagined characteristics of various pieces around the galleries:

National Museums Scotland’s Capture the Museum is a team game that is played at special events hosted at the Museum:

It is also possible to use third party apps or concepts to enable people to engage with a site or a collection.  QR codes were once touted as an easy way to link information and media online with physical objects and spaces.  This hasn’t really taken off and QR codes do have their critics, but for organisations without the budget to create their own app, there might be some imaginative ways that QR codes can still be used to great effect.  Geo-caching also has similar potential, and is already embraced by some outdoor sites.


What Else?

This short overview only really takes in the obvious ways that informal learners are being engaged, please let us know if there are any more case-studies or examples of good practice within this sector or elsewhere…

Our next DLNET surgery will be on the subject of digital informal learning.  It will take place from 12.00pm until 2.00pm on Friday 5 September.  Join the DLNET email discussion list, check our Twitter feed, or Like our Facebook page for more details.

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