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Researching Adult Learning at Manchester Art Gallery

by YPU Admin on January 7, 2016, Comments. Tags: Humanities, learning, manchester, Manchester Art Gallery, masters, Museums, Research, and UoM

Introduction

Hello, my name is Ed Trotman and I’m employed as a graduate intern with the University of Manchester, working specifically on the Schools-University Partnership Initiative (SUPI). I’ve recently graduated from the University with an MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies. Prior to this I completed an undergraduate degree in History at the University of Bristol.

You might not have heard of Museum Studies as a degree option - it involves the study of the role of museums and galleries in society as well as how museum professionals (e.g. curators, conservators, educationalists) go about putting on displays and exhibitions. The idea is that it provides a basic training to enter the museum sector. As a Master’s degree it took place over the duration of a year (although some Masters take longer!). In this time I learnt about a variety of aspects of museum work. I also did a lot of volunteering with staff at the Manchester Museum, the Manchester Central Library, the Museum of Science and Industry and Manchester Art Gallery. The course culminated in a research project assignment. This could be on any topic related to Art Gallery and Museum Studies. 

Thinking about my experiences of learning about and working in museums and art galleries I decided that I wanted to investigate the educational role of these institutions. I discovered that cultural organisations play a bigger role in society than I was aware of. It is common, for instance, to find that museums carry out community outreach projects in poorer socio-economic areas, host workshop classes for the very elderly and those with dementia and provide educational activities for people of all ages and backgrounds struggling with disability.

Despite their social good however, factors including transport costs, limited free time and a lack of familiarity with cultural institutions often prevent many adults from accessing the museum’s educational resources. I was interested to know how museums and galleries could seek to attract more adult visitors to talks and workshops, how best to engage with them whilst they were there and how to encourage them to come again. 


In Depth

After doing some reading I found that not that much research had been done by academics within the field of Museum Studies into adult education in cultural institutions (which was actually pretty shocking!). In order to understand more about the best ways of going about adult education in museums/galleries I looked at Adult Learning theory. In particular, I read about the Theory of Andragogy by Malcolm S. Knowles. This is a foundational theory of adult learning which states that adults learn differently to children. Knowles defines six key principles which explain how adults learn differently. These include the ideas that adults rely heavily on lived experience to learn, that they always need to know why they need to learn something before learning it and that they prefer to be self-directed when learning. When these ideas were published in the sixties they were fairly controversial but have now become more accepted. Knowles argues that these principles can be applied to almost any situation in which adults are being encouraged to learn.

The focus of my research was to understand if Knowles’ principles had broader application within cultural institutions. I assessed two educational sessions for adults at Manchester Art Gallery including a gallery tour and a workshop, carrying out focus group interviews with participants in both. I found that, in the workshop class, many of these ideas were already being used by gallery staff to great effect and could be seen to have application. In the tour session meanwhile it was clear that teaching staff were contravening several of Knowles’s principles and consequently adults reported feeling frustrated with their experiences. As a result I concluded that the principles of Andragogy had practical use here. The process of carrying out this research and writing it up was really interesting, especially as I felt like I was contributing something new to the field of Museum Studies. I got to speak to members of the public about art and art galleries and practice my interview skills. 


Going Further

If you want to find out more about my MA, the Theory of Andragogy or the sessions I attended at Manchester Art Gallery follow the links below:

Art Gallery and Museum Studies at the University of Manchester: http://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/masters/courses/list/01100/art-gallery-and-museum-studies-ma/

Knowles’ Theory of Andragogy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andragogy

Manchester Art Gallery, Exhibitions and Events: http://manchesterartgallery.org/exhibitions-and-events/

Museums Association http://www.museumsassociation.org/home