Museums are designs for learning. Whether intentionally or not, museums embody views about what’s worth learning, and the way that artworks, objects, and historical material are presented—from exhibitions to architecture to wall texts—embody views about how learning happens. This in itself is nothing new: museums have always been designed with edification in mind.
Active learning occurs when people stretch their minds to interact with the information and experiences at hand. In art museums, visitors are learning actively when they do such things as: formulate their own questions about works of art, reflect on their own ideas and impressions, make their own discerning judgments, construct their own interpretations, and seek their own personal connections. These sorts of behaviors are called active learning because they involve acting on available information—including information from one’s own thoughts, feelings, and impressions—in order to form new ideas. Of course, not every moment of learning in a museum is, or even should be, active. There are times when passive learning can be wonderful, for instance, when a viewer stands in front of a painting and gloriously lets it wash over him or her, immersed in a flow of sensations. But in extended learning experiences, research shows that active learning is important: people learn more deeply and retain knowledge longer when they have opportunities to engage actively with the information and experiences at hand, even if these opportunities are punctuated with moments of passive receptivity. This is a general fact about cognition, as true in museums as it is in schools.
Our museum attempts to offer all this. Contact our curator to find out how this learning experience can be achieved to the full.