Activities that actively and deliberately support museum visitors’ engagement with art and promote learning occupy a distinct, though contested, place in the history and current framing of the art museum across the globe. Despite its many benefits, educational work in art museums has grown erratically, frequently without formal structures, systems, or strategies, and it has been critiqued in the past for lacking a robust theoretical framework and consistent methodological principles. It remains the case that the field is broad, diverse, and continually evolving; in the early 21st century, the boundaries are shifting, for example, between what constitutes curatorial practice and learning practice in contemporary art museums. This fluidity and heterogeneity has enabled the emergence of creative and responsive practice that encourages visitors to learn with, through, and about art, but it poses challenges when the goal is to present a coherent overview. Therefore any summary of this complex domain will necessarily be selective. Nonetheless, taking the practice as it has been developed in the United Kingdom and the United States, where this work has been theorized and communicated to the greatest extent (and with reference to the practice in Europe, Canada, and Australia), it is possible to identify common historical developments, shared philosophical and pedagogical principles, and collective challenges and opportunities that contribute to a comprehensible picture, albeit one that is replete with contradictions. As a field, art-museum education continues to define itself. And although valuable research and theorization have been undertaken, in part by practitioners drawing on their own experiences, further work is required, not least to broaden the understanding of the practice as it is manifest globally and to make explicit the increasingly important role of art education within the art museum.
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.
The application of curriculum theory and models of curriculum development to museum education helps inform the analysis of the representational, communicative, epistemological, and cognitive dimensions of the formal, informal, and nonformal learning that takes place in the museum setting. Museums and other in/nonformal learning environments implicitly and explicitly engage questions of worth inherent to curriculum inquiry. Within the Curriculum Studies field, such questions reflect both an historical and a contemporary concern with issues of diversity, accessibility, social justice, civic value, and human rights in school and non-school curriculum contexts. In addition to other curriculum analysis frameworks, international instances of museum education curricula can be understood through the lenses of three “human interests”: the technical, the practical, and the emancipatory. A preference for designing educational materials and experiences around predetermined objectives reflects a technical interest in museum curricula. Within this technical approach, which can also be conceptualized as curriculum as product, the success or failure of a curriculum depends on the degree to which the intended objectives are achieved. Curriculum as practice reflects a practical interest in the way understanding and knowledge are created (rather than simply transmitted) through the dynamic social interactions between teacher and learner. A curriculum as practice orientation aligns with constructivist views on museum learning. Representing an emancipatory interest in human liberation and the overcoming of oppressive social structures is the curriculum as praxis orientation. This approach to museum curricula often assumes a social justice goal of community empowerment that seeks to translate understanding or consciousness-raising into action.
Remarkable natural and cultural resources are factors that contribute to the economic development of an area. These resources attract tourists and contribute to the amount of traffic in an area. The more remarkable natural resources an area has, the more it becomes a tourist attraction. Archaeological sites and museums as well as their natural surroundings, are considered as such remarkable resources, among others. However, these sites are often degraded not only by the high amount of traffic but also by the lack of measures meant for their protection. The preservation and protection of natural and cultural resources requires, inter alia, specialized personnel to guard them. For the aim of preservation of archaeological sites and museums, staff are trained on environmental and cultural issues. This training is part of European programs and is completed through Lifelong Learning Centers. One of these Lifelong Learning Centers, the Public Institution for Vocational Training of the Plato Academy, was chosen to carry out the research. Student education included study visits to archaeological sites that present natural and cultural resources (Archaeological sites of Athens, the Acropolis, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Ancient Agora, Keramikos and the Academy of Plato). At the same time, students attended lectures on both the preservation of archaeological sites and museums and the protection of the natural environment. An in-situ research and the questionnaire method were used to complete the survey. Research has shown that the Lifelong Learning Center through the educational process (theory and practice) can increase environmental and cultural awareness among staff and improve knowledge of security matters. This awareness is essential to better guard and protect natural and cultural resources.