Museums are ideal places to provide settings, resources and inspirations for a wide reaching and diverse range of both informal and formal learning activities addressing all ages with different needs.

Museums have been educational places since their inception, with their mission encompassing two sometimes, competing remits: caring for collections as well as providing access and learning opportunities for visitors. In addition to being places that conserve and present the traces of the past, they may also now be seen as the centre piece of community development or regeneration projects. There is no question that the role of museums has changed significantly in recent years.

When carrying out their educational and didactic tasks, European museums have often aimed their educational programmes at schoolchildren, seeing them as the most easy-to-reach group, and the one for which most is known about learning methodologies.  Adult learning has seldom strayed from the guided visit, the expert lecture or formal evening class.  In the last decade, more and more museums in the different European countries have chosen to consider the needs of and engage with new and or different audiences: migrants, people with disabilities, socially excluded people, and also adult lifelong learners, who see a museum visit as an opportunity to build understanding, gain an insight, be inspired, or simply to enjoy.

The museum public has widened to include both younger and older adults, who pose new challenges to museum educators used to working with groups of pupils or students in formal education.  Adult learners are autonomous and self-directed, able to contribute actively to the learning experience and take part in the meaning-making process which all learning entails; they have also accumulated life experience and knowledge that new learning should build upon.

Lifelong learning therefore opens up a new era for museums: that of questioning assumptions, of experimenting, of building up partnerships, and of being challenged by encounters with different publics, new audiences, new citizens, and of trying to make a positive difference to their lives.

To access publications and other documents that regard Learning, head to the Reading Corner

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