Universidad de Santiago de Compostela (SPAIN)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2013 Proceedings
Publication year: 2013
Pages: 6024-6032
ISBN: 978-84-616-2661-8
ISSN: 2340-1079
Conference name: 7th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 4-5 March, 2013
Location: Valencia, Spain
From an educational point of view, online museums have evolved significantly over the last 18 years. Starting from «electronic brochures» which promoted gallery activities, they developed into «digital repositories» for easy access to educational resources, and became «learning platforms» striving to incorporate social media models and habits. However, at any of these stages attention has mostly been paid to formal education. Today, practically every online museum provides an education section, but the content it holds has been usually designed for curricular purposes and, therefore, developed to suit formal education recipients, educational stages, and even specific class subjects. In fact, few online museums seem to provide specific learning resources not related to academic institutions.

It may be argued that by providing access to online content, museums already support informal learning and that any further effort would imply a formalization of it. In other words, it would mean turning «learning» into «education». While this may be true, rich-content institutions such as museums need to provide some type of guidance in order for online visitors to access content meaningfully. In the case of gallery visitors, museums do offer a handful of options that range from semi-formal to self-guided (guided tours and gallery information sheets, for instance). Comparatively, online visitors lack an equivalent service and are left to their own devices when exploring the museum’s online holdings.

Taking this into account, the purpose of this paper is twofold. Using the 25 most visited museums in 2011 as a basis of study (The Art Newspaper, April 2012) the main aim of this research is to catalog current online learning resources not specifically assigned to formal education. Secondly, since gallery and online content have different constraints, and gallery and online visits provide different experiences, attention is also payed at how informal resources are designed for the online public.

Preliminary research shows that informal online content tends to fall within three categories. The first group deals with online collections. Since the amount of online holdings is usually vast, the museum provides predefined selections (related objects, itineraries, virtual visits, etc.) as well search systems and indexes which offer restrictive criteria to help personal exploration. The second group, centers on monographic content; small information nodes which present a particular view on an object, a theme, a period of time, etc. Within this category fall online exhibits, interactive modules, videos and podcasts (audios), courses, etc. A final category comprises reference resources for researchers and professionals, such as library and archive databases, as well as online journals. Regarding informal content design, it usually tends to replicate traditional cataloging patterns instead of building relational connections. However, there is a small number of museums that have reconsidered the notions of collection and exhibition, to provide online versions that encourage personal discovery outside the museum’s traditional taxonomies.
Informal learning, lifelong learning, online museums, virtual museums.