Museum programs catering to adults can be defined as an informal learning environment, attracting life long learners who are interested in combining, “their personal interests, professional expertise, and social consciousness” (Grenier 1). According to Marsick & Watkins, the information people learn from an informal environment may be incidental or unconsciously attained (26). However, in an informal learning environment an idea or insight may be purposefully probed based on an organization’s “hidden agenda” (Marsick & Watkins (Davis)26). In regards to museums, the hidden agenda would very much relate to the mission and vision statements from which the program was created.
I would like to briefly explore the types of informal learning posed by Marsick & Watkins and how these theories apply to museum programs. Self-directed learning, or SDL, is an adult learning concept that developed in the early 1960’s, which stemmed from androgogy (Merriam 4). Malcolm Knowles redefined androgogy, specifically for North America, in order to distinguish adult learning from pedagogy. Knowles’ version of androgogy evolved into an educational concept that is learner-centered, versus teacher-directed (Merriam 6). Whereas SDL, using the further refined definition of Tough*, is a type of adult learning that “occurs as part of adults’ everyday life, and that is systematic yet does not depend on an instructor or classroom” and recognizes “that learners become increasingly self-directed as they mature” (Merriam 8). In addition, the SDL is an independent learner that is encouraged by student led discussion (Merriam 10).
Although adult learning theories are extremely applicable to museum programming, the two fields did not start to merge until the late 20th century (Dudzinska-Przesmitzki 1) In addition, according to Sachatello-Sawyer, et al, many museums do not have an educator focused exclusively on adult programs (72). Instead educators are mainly focused on family or children programming.
The importance of lifelong learning in relation to adults is not only an issue concerning museums. For instance the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Towards Knowledge Society report, which studied life long learning’s importance on a global level, recognized that life long learning needs to be socially recognized and polices addressing life long learning need to “…incorporate these many different places and forms of learning, including self-education” (75). It is in museums where these lifelong learning goals can be achieved, however.
According to Sachetello-Sawyer, museum educators have been using concepts of adult learning theory to identify four types of adult learners: knowledge seekers, socializers, skill builders, and museum lovers (7-8). Various combinations of these categories are used to identify why adults participate in museum programs. Regarding the young professional demographic identified, Sachetello-Sawyer noted these adults, aged 18-35, are mainly concerned with establishing themselves in their careers and/or establishing families (5). As a result these personal focus areas are also areas of learning concentrations that a young professional would want to address in an informal learning environment (Sachatello-Sawyer, Fellenz and Burton 5).
Are adult museum programs being created to fully engage their targeted audience?
In the fall of 2010, I conducted an interview with Mark Davis, Membership Manager at the National Building Museum (NBM) in Washington, DC. Mark and his education team had been developing a new program targeted specifically for young, emerging professionals in the Construction, Architecture, and Design fields, or CAD professionals. Adhering to the importance of mission-based programs at NBM, Mark and his team were interested in creating a series of programs that would attract young CAD professionals beyond a primarily social event, such as a happy hour. Rather, Mark envisioned these events to be museum sponsored programs that would allow young CAD professionals to network and establish professional relationships. In addition, these young adults would be introduced the NBM, not only as a cultural institution that may be of interest, but also as a place outside of work where they could continue to further their careers.
In order to assist Mark and the NBM educational staff in creating a CAD young professional program, a focus group of 10-12 CAD professionals was established. The group voiced an interest in events that would allow networking among other CAD professionals and an opportunity to further discuss ideas and concepts concerning the built environment profession. The statements from the focus group are very much in line with the SDL adult learning theories, particularly in regards to networking and student led discussions. In addition, the focus group members exemplify a combination of adult learner types such as: knowledge seekers, skill builders, and socializers. The focus group also specifically acknowledged professional networking as a desired activity of these events, which correlates with the needs of the 18-35 age group that Sachatello-Sawyer, et al, recognized. Forming a focus group to help develop the CAD young professional program is significant in creating a meaningful program for the adult learners by educators understanding what adult learners want (Sachatello-Sawyer, Fellenz and Burton 105).
Based on the input of the focus group, Mark and the NBM education team decided to expand upon a popular lecture series offered to the public, “For the Greener Good.” The new CAD professional lecture series is scheduled to begin in January 2011. In addition to the lecture, a reception will be held for CAD professionals exclusively, with drinks and light food, after the lecture. The hope is that the lecturers will stay to mingle and discuss topics with CAD professionals. In addition, the inclusion of a reception offers NBM an opportunity to engage the CAD young professionals, by offering a more relax environment, which is also essential to meaningful adult programs. I believe that the NBM CAD young professional series exemplifies a type of museum program that offers mutual trust and mutual respect between the institution and the adult learner, an important emphasis in regards to adult learning recognized by Malcolm Knowles.
Davis, Mark. Director of Education National Building Museum (interview) Jennifer Paper. October 2010.
Dudzinska-Przesmitzki, Dana and Robin S. Grenier. “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and Never the Two Shall Meet: A Critical Review of Museum Studies and Adult Education Literature.” Adult Education Conference. 2008.
Grenier, Robin S. “How Do Museums Fit into our Notions of Adult Education?” Adult Education Conference. 2007.
Lackie, Robert J, John W LeMasney and Kathleen M Pierce. Teaching Generation M. Ed. Vibiana Bowman Cvetkovic and Robert J Lackie. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc., n.d.
Marsick, Victoria J. and Karen E Watkins. “Informal and Incidental Learning.” New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 89.Spring (2001): 25-34.
Merriam, Sharan B. “Andragogy and Self-Directed Learning: Pillars of Adult Learning Theory.” New Directions For Adult and Continuing Education No. 89 (Spring 2001).
Sachatello-Sawyer, Bonnie, et al. Adult Museum Programs: Designing Meaningful Experiences. New York: Altamira Press, 2002.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. “Towards Knowledge Societies.” 2005.