The Digital Strategies in Heritage conference, or DISH for short, in Rotterdam was held at the begining of December 2011. Where Wendy Earle from the BFI chaired a panel about digital learning strategies, or lack of, and asked everyone to start thinking really strategically about what digital learning means in the cultural sector and where exactly digital learning practitioners sit in cultural institutions.
The panel consisted of; Rhiannon Looseley from the Museum of London, Shelley Mannion from the British Museum, Wendy from BFI, Bridget McKenzie from Flow Associates, Steven Stegers from EUROCLIO, and me (Claire Ross, chair of the Digital Learning Network).
It was a really interesting panel that raised more questions than answers, but I think that it was really quite telling that we all had questions about the jobs we do, the experiences we provide, and the roles we play in the wider institution, and how there really aren’t any best practice guides or key institutional guidelines of how digital learning should be approached. Or in fact evaluated.
Despite Learning being increasingly acknowledged to be a core function of museums, and the multitude of digital and online museum learning resources being produced there is still a lot of confusion about what all of that really means. As we stated in our panel abstract museums ‘have embraced the transformative possibilities of the digital realm. However, introducing digital initiatives into learning raises interesting questions that have not yet been fully discussed.’
On a practical level there are questions about responsibility and job roles; for example who is responsible for creating digital learning content within heritage institutions, and where do they sit within organizations? Tech, learning, curatorial, marketing?
But we raised other interesting questions:
- How can non-technical educators manage digital projects successfully?
- What partnerships have been established? Do they work efficiently? Do these partnerships include non-heritage partners?
- What kind of learning is encouraged?
- How is the impact measured?
- Is a learning framework used?
- Which audiences are addressed and how?
Then we raised more strategic questions, including ‘what do we mean by learning in a digital context?’, ‘what kind of learning do we want to encourage?’ and how do we know if learning is taking (or has taken) place?
I would love to hear from anyone who has some asnwers to these questions.
I was really interested in questions about digital learning and the institutional mission and where does digital learning fit in with senior management policy decisions? Also issues of how do you get institutional support for digital learning research projects, particularly if you are doing something really new? Does that fit with institutional aims? Also talking about whether or not personalised digital learning can be implemented in siloed museum departments? Is there collaboration and transparency required to do so efficiently?
The big question for me looked at whether focusing on the user, and whether or not we can create meaningful digital learning experiences with the visitor rather than for the visitor.
Overall the panel were talking around how museums are rethinking how we engage with our audiences, and there are shifting ideas about learning becoming about active production and participation, and now museums increasingly expect projects to include some kind of digital learning element. But there are challenges in demonstrating the impact of these on audiences and learners. But it is important to have a sensible discussion about how these are impacting on the educational practice of heritage organisations. And really as a panel we came to the conclusion that this hasn’t really been done yet, and perhaps this can be the start of proper discussions about this, and how dealing with digital technology and learning can become more strategic in its approach.