Museum Education for Today’s Audiences

Scott Pattison and Smirla Ramos-Montañez
Pattison, S. A., & Ramos Montañez, S. (2021). Facilitating family learning in museums: Re-thinking our assumptions and approaches. In J. L. Porter & M. K. Cunningham (Eds.), Museum education for today’s audiences: Meeting expectations with new models. Rowman & Littlefield.

Chapter 7 by Scott Pattison and Smirla Ramos-Montañez of TERC

Facilitating Family Learning in Museums: Re-Thinking our Assumptions and Approaches

Although museums have long valued and catered to families as an audience, museum educators have not always had the tools or training to support the unique nature of family learning or to develop family-specific approaches that are distinct from classroom teaching. In this chapter, we outline a series of research-based principles for understanding family learning and provide examples to illustrate how these principles play out in museums. Specifically, we highlight the importance of (a) recognizing that families have multiple goals, (b) appreciating the central role of parents and other adult family members, and (b) understanding how a museum visit is a brief moment in a family’s long-term learning trajectory. We then explore how these principles might be used to inform new approaches to the facilitation of family learning in museums and provide an example of a professional development resource intended to help educators incorporate these principles into their practice.

Book Synopsis

Museum Education for Today’s Audiences Book Cover

Today’s museum educators are tackling urgent social issues, addressing historic inequalities of museum collections, innovating for accessibility, leveraging technology for new in-person and virtual learning experiences, and cultivating partnerships with schools, businesses, elders, scientists, and other social services to build relationships and be of service to their communities. Despite the physical distance the pandemic placed between museums and their visitors, museum educators have remained essential — sustaining connections with the public through virtual or modified programming, content development, and conversations that they are uniquely qualified to execute. Educators require updated resources to guide their efforts in navigating these new challenges and building upon the opportunities presented by current events and changing audiences.

This book and its accompanying on-line resource share lessons from innovators in the field to support ongoing professional development efforts with essays about current issues. Additionally, it provides new models and tools to guide individual or group reflection on how today’s museum educators can adapt and thrive in a dynamic and ever-changing cultural sector. The additional resources include discussion prompts and adaptable templates to allow readers to customize the content based on current events, institutional discipline, size, budget, and staffing scenario of their organization.

The book’s essays are divided into three sections:

  • Changing expectations of visitors – inclusion, participation, and technology
  • Training and preparation for responsive, resourceful educators
  • Models for the future