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Museum Education and the Epistemological Turn  

Irene Pérez López

Education has been part of museum identity since its inception. However, in the second half of the 20th century, the educational role gradually became the main goal: the museum has become a social institution whose educational nature legitimizes its social relevance and secures its survival in the 21st century. The spread of education to all areas of the museum, commonly called the “educational turn,” is the reason behind the conceptual change that is taking place in the postmodern museum, which has its origin in educational theory. In the last decades of the 20th century, the concept of learning as the transmission of information from an informed source to a passive receiver was replaced by the constructivist notion that learning is an active process dependent on the learner’s previous knowledge and experiences. At about the same time, critical pedagogy—as critical museology—brought a critical attitude within the museum, directed to identify structures of power and authority in order to give voice to traditionally excluded communities, and postmodernism added the idea of knowledge as something unstable and skepticism about the Western metanarratives of modernity. Constructivism, critical pedagogy, and postmodern theory contributed to the epistemological turn that the 21st-century museum faces. The change in learning theories and communication models in the postmodern museum, as a result of the epistemological turn, threatens the role of the institution as the only interpretive authority, by turning its message—previously considered a universal truth—into a point of view. The museum faces the challenge of becoming a meaning-making scenario where visitors can make connections and design their own learning experiences. The museum of the 21st century has forged a more egalitarian relationship with society.