Digital Learning at Imperial War Museums

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Martin Bazley


 © IWM (D 11005)

© IWM (D 11005)

On 15th October IWM (Imperial War Museums) hosted a Digital Learning Workshop for staff from across its five branches.  The Workshop was hosted by Charlie Keitch, the Digital Learning Officer, National & International Programmes & Projects, IWM.   Here he tells us about the reasons for putting on the workshop and what IWM is planning to do as a result.

First of all, let me give you a bit of background.  I am relatively new in post at IWM, having started in the summer and the post itself is also a new one.  A large focus is the upcoming centenary of the First World War and I was taken on to develop a range of online learning resources targeted primarily at secondary schools and young people.  These resources are not intended to be visit specific and should be just as relevant for someone who hasn’t visited one of our branches as someone who has.  We’re also designing them for an international audience so they need to be relevant for people based anywhere in the world, so I’ve done a  lot of work looking at how the First World War is taught in Commonwealth countries like India, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.  These resources will be incorporated into a new online presence for IWM’s different learning departments, which we will be developing throughout 2013, and which will be available via

That all sounds very exciting, but I had a lot of questions relating to our wider offer, particularly content that dealt with conflicts beyond the First World War.  For example, IWM currently has a range of online resources available via so we would have to consider these as well and think about how they could be updated and incorporated into the resources we would be creating.  We would also need to think about the resources IWM already offers online like our Collections in Context articles and material that has been made available via external sites like the Google Art Project.  How would these link up with our new resources? What about content for young people outside of school – what was that going to look like?  Basically, I wanted to ensure that our online learning offer made sense as a whole and that people could easily find the content that was useful and relevant to them.

Alongside that I was really keen that we think about ‘Digital Learning’ in a wider sense and what that meant for IWM beyond our online offer.  So, what should our digital learning offer be for schools visiting one of our sites and how does that relate to groups who take part in one of our learning sessions?   That’s not to say that people haven’t thought about this already.  For example, IWM North have already incorporated tablets into one of their learning sessions in a really interesting way.  I was keen to think about how we could ensure a consistent approach across all our branches, which would feel like part of the same offer as the online resources.   Again, everything had to make sense individually and as part of a greater whole.

Which leads me on to the workshop!  I was really keen that myself, as well as other key staff from across IWM, were able to learn from the brilliant work which other people are already doing, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. So I thought about colleagues who were doing things that seemed relevant to us. Thanks to a combination of calling in favours and bribing people with the offer of a free lunch, I put together a panel of colleagues from outside organisations including The British Museum, Museum of London, Royal Museums Greenwich, TATE, and Wellcome Collection.  Whilst wanting to make the most of their expertise, I didn’t want to give them too much work to do as I was very aware that they were already donating their time and they were all busy people.  I asked everyone to lead a 10 minute discussion covering subjects ranging from online provision for different audiences to digital workshops and mobile learning.  Happily, everyone seemed very enthusiastic to take part and spoke for at least twice as long as we’d scheduled, meaning that it was a struggle to fit everyone in before lunch!  It was a great morning and led to some very interesting conversations amongst the attendees from IWM in the afternoon, but everyone who attended seemed to appreciate the opportunity to meet and discuss what other organisations were doing so I’d really recommend it as an approach if you can find someone to foot the bill for lunch! 

So, what next?  Well, I had a bit of an epiphany half way through the day when I realised that I couldn’t do everything, in fact it’s highlighted in bright yellow highlighter in my notes!  More accurately, I realised that I couldn’t do everything at once.  The priority has to be our online resources and content and ensuring that these are ready for the centenary.  Luckily, everyone else agreed with me so I’m currently working on getting the plans for these really firmed up and talking to people around IWM to ensure they draw on the highlights of IWM’s collections.  I’m also working closely with staff from across the learning teams at our different branches, as well as our Digital Media department, to make sure that our wider resources are developed in tandem with those for the centenary.

A major theme to come out of the day was the importance of having a vision / manifesto for our digital learning offer and this was something I was hoping we would be able to produce on the back of the workshop.  However, this will now be developed early in 2013 in conjunction with a new learning and engagement strategy for IWM.  This is fantastic, because it means digital learning isn’t being seen as separate to the rest of our offer and isn’t being retrofitted to an existing strategy, it’s being thought of as part of the whole, just as it should be.  As for digital learning beyond the website, it’s been put onto the backburner for the time being, but that’s not to say things aren’t happening.  For example, we’re currently waiting to find out about an exciting project which will involve us working with an outside organisation to trial some onsite activities in a new way.  Hopefully these will have the potential to roll out across different IWM branches in the future, so there’s still plenty going on!    


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