Back to Social Learning

I’ve been doing Future Learn free online courses for a few years now and I’ve been documenting them on here, but it’s been a while since I’ve started one and I suddenly got a bit of the bug again. I’ve signed up to a slightly different  course from the usual ones that I do, but one that I think will help in the future – Intercultural Communications.

This course is intended for people going to study or work abroad, but it also looks at variations in cultural behaviours and communications which I think could be really useful in the future. However, it doesn’t start until the end of April, so like all FutureLearn courses there’s an option to introduce yourself to the other learners, which gets you used to the social and discussion aspects of the course. On each section in a FutureLearn course, there is a discussion section and this is considered to be an essential aspect of the learning process. However, with a few exceptions there is no requirement to partake, and it’s perfectly possible to be an entirely passive reader/watcher on the course.

There’s nothing wrong with this, and you still definitely learn things, but it’s something that I’ve been guilty on my last few courses, and looking back I would have benefitted from being a part of some of these discussions, as they often do help to bed a subject more firmly into my brain. So I’ve written my introduction, and by the time the course starts I’ll have made an effort to comment on a few other people’s, just to get me back into the swing of it. Then, of course, I’ll have my notes (and maybe some my comments) up on here!


#Blaugust x #FutureLearn – Museums as a Source for Learning Part Five

I’ve made it to the final week’s worth of learning for Future Learn‘s ‘Understanding Museums as a Site and Source for Learning’.


This section of the course focuses on the role of a conservator in museums, especially when working with contemporary art that might have been made from less-than-sturdy materials. How do you preserve and record, and do you need to preserve it at all in some cases?

The main function of a conservator is to look after the artworks in their organisation’s collection – so proper installation and storage instructions are very important. A wide range of skills are necessary, and an understanding of a huge range of possible materials. The course didn’t mention it, but I assume you would also need to know may specialists in this job! We are asked the question – when it comes to caring for an artwork, who’s opinion is more important, the conservator or the original artist? I feel I would slightly come down on the side of the conservator, as their organisation is in a position of responsibility – frequently to the public, if an artwork is purchased and maintained with public funding.

There was a discussion around conserving the installation ‘Inner City’, which I mentioned in my previous blogpost for this course. This was able more than preserving the physical aspects – there were sound files on obsolete disc technology that had to be recreated, and a lighting system that needed updating for current health and safety regulations. In a digital age, these kind of issues will be more and more common in the future. However, there is also the issue of whether the degradation of an artwork is a part of the artwork’s history, or whether you should keep it exactly as it was when first created.

The next section revolved around the basics of how you would create a collection and the basics of an exhibition. This was really interesting to read, but harder to write about! Plus, I’m about to pay Future Learn/University of Glasgow to have this course accredited, which as well as getting an exciting certificate, it means that unlike some previous Future Learn courses, I get to go back to this course whenever I like!

This has been a very different, fascinating course for me to do, and while I promised myself that I wouldn’t be taking any Future Learn courses just for the sake of Blaugust content, I may have to sign up for something else verrrrryyyy soon…

#Blaugust x #FutureLearn – Museums as a Source for Learning Part Four


(Image above from Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Insel Museum, Berlin by Mike Steele, original here)

With Blaugust underway, I’m back to looking at my current Future Learn course ‘Understanding Museums as a Site and Source for Learning.’ As I started this course after it went live, I’m rushing a little to get the three weeks worth of content worked through, since I’m keen to get this course accredited (I don’t often pay to get all my Future Learn courses accredited, as this one seems worth it.)

Previous posts of this course are here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

While the first parts of the course looked at audiences, this week looks at curation and working with artists/collaborators, in particular the choices that go into a specific exhibition and how it is presented (with text etc.)

Contemporary Art

There was a discussion as part of the course on styles of contemporary arts, leading into a section how a curator might design a contemporary art exhibition. There was a focus on the curator as a storyteller, choosing specific pieces with certain explanations and accompanying text/media to lead an audience through an exhibition in a certain way, and to a certain understanding.

An important quote from this report (which was in the added resources section.)

“Who is the 21st century curator? A scholar, storyteller, entrepreneur, fundraiser, facilitator.

The curator of the exhibition ‘Inner City’ at Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow explained their decisions when creating the exhibition – a lot of this linked back to the audience work from earlier in the course, as the exhibition is aimed at adults, but the main feature is a large scale installation to be walked around, children can engage with it on a different level, through the medium of workshops. They also created a virtual tour of the space, recognising that it might be difficult for people with accessibility issues to see all of the exhibit in the intended way.

The exhibit itself is focused on cities and communities, and though some of the work is not new, it’s original focus on city regeneration (or lack of) was something that they felt Glasgow audiences would relate to.

Text for Exhibitions

Accompanying text and media for exhibits are hugely important as they will influence how audiences react to an consider a piece. They need to be short and to the point – people will not read long text when they have come for a visual experience.

The goal shouldn’t be to tell people what they would be looking at/thinking, but to provide context and theme that will help them formulate their own thoughts on a piece, especially an artistic rather than historic piece. In art in particular, curators shouldn’t be trying to teach in a formalised sense, but to engage the audience in learning about a work.

Also, in artistic exhibitions, some artists may object to having their art ‘labelled’ if they feel it detracts from art as expression. However, art exhibitions with no labelling can easily come across as confusing or elitist to the audience and put them off – it is important to find a middle path and be creative!

  • Labels should be written with enthusiasm for the topic
  • Suggest, but don’t command ways for the audience to engage/interact
  • Be accessible, with short, varied sentences and words
  • Think how you would talk to someone about the object, then use that style to write with
  •  Think about the technical words that your audience may not be familiar with

The third and final part of the course looks at museums and conservation, so I’ll be getting to grips with that next week, along with other blog topics.

Future Learn – Museums as a Source for Learning Part Three – Instagram Curation

I’m nearly at the end of Week One of this course, but I’m doing it in a pretty condensed way so I’ll be jumping straight into Week Two (of three) very soon. Also, Blaugust starts tomorrow! Unlike last year, I have not planned at all and I feel great about it. Expect a specific starter post about that.

I’ve realised that this is quite a short section, so this might be a fairly short post!

Using Instagram to Measure and Curate

A museum in The Netherlands specifically encouraged visitors to post about an exhibition on Instagram with specific hashtags. Going through these after, they were able to break down which parts of the exhibit engaged people the most by which pieces of content showed up the most, as well as the comments with them, and were able to use this as a way to curate for future events.

This is a great way of measuring audience engagement in a both quantitative and qualitative way, although it is always important to remember that you are only seeing a narrow part of the overall story unless you use other methods to measure your audience. For example, when the arts organisation where I work surveys the audience, we are always careful to do it via both online (email/survey forms etc.) and offline (paper surveys, face-to-face etc.)

Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 20.20.49

(From my own Instagram – a photo from the Anson Engine Museum. It’s a wonderful and strange place and if you’re ever in North Cheshire you should go.)

Since this was a fairly short post, I had a quick glance over the next week’s worth of content, which is mostly about exhibition planning, a new topic that I’ll be getting to grips with over the next few days!

Just so they’re linked, here is Part One and Part Two of my posts on this course.

FutureLearn – Museums as a Source for Learning Part 2 – Engaging Different Audiences

Yesterday, I started a new Future Learn course – ‘Understanding Museums as a Site and Source for Learning’. I’m going to try and get through this course fairly quickly, so I’m planning on doing daily or near-daily posts with my notes from the course – my previous post is here.

How to engage different audience groups

The next section of the course Museums as a site and source for learning: Week One looked at how to engage and accommodate different types of audiences.


The first was children, where the emphasis is on engaging them via different senses – exhibits, workshops and activities that use sight, sound etc., as well as a focus on interactive activities that both confirm skills and experiences they already have (the example given was around basic literacy) as well as providing new experiences.

The key person in this video was the facilitators, in encouraging children to vocalise their thoughts, and come to conclusions via their own ideas rather than being told answers.

Deaf Visitors, and visitors with hearing loss

The next video looked at the issues of providing information in museums in a way which can be translated into British Sign Language, as specialised language might not be translatable. Public tours with transcripts don’t really work either, as it can lose specific details.

It’s also important to ensure that text-based information in exhibitions is clearly visible and easy to read.

A video interviewing deaf visitors, we are asked to consider previous info about putting exhibits into lived context – can the museums’ content be related to artists/historical figures with deafness

Visually-Impaired Visitors

The course gave an example of a staff member in a gallery giving an audio description of a painting. This is an important way to engage visitors, but it is also a skill that would require training.

Young People

The final section discussed the issues that museums and galleries have had in engaging young people who may not feel that the content is relevant to them, or may be nervous about coming into a building, especially when they worry that they may automatically be regarded with suspicion by staff and security. Many cultural institutions have issues with this, and have different ways of making a place seem more welcoming, or more relaxed, holding parties etc. Also, young people are (and should be) encouraged to have opinions on the arts, even if they don’t like it or find it irrelevant, and not be afraid of being wrong.

The last part of Week One covers some elements of how museums and galleries use social media to engage, so I’ll be looking over that, and whipping up a quick set of notes tomorrow. After that, it’s August… I mean Blaugust… and I’ll see there that goes!

FutureLearn – Museums as a Source for Learning Part 1 – Visitor Profiles

I went back on Future Learn for the first time in a while, and immediately came across a course that is perfect for my current career working in arts/cultural event marketing – ‘The Museum as a Site and Source for Learning’.

I’ve only gone a short way through the first week’s work of this three week course, and so far I’ve made notes on the sections covering the elements of creating engaging content, and visitor profiling. These are both things I’m very familiar with already, although not in the context of museums.

Designing exhibits to engage people

All content for your venue should be developed with the visitor in mind. Always need to have an audience in mind before you even begin to programme – this will determine not just content but also approach – tone of voice etc.

  •         Families – Conversation and Dialogue, like interactive experience and group-based tasks
  •         Adults will pick and choose the topic and exhibition they want to engage with

For families and early years, an exhibition should encourage play – this is something that came up a lot at the Arts Marketing Association Conference earlier this week (see my posts about that here). At the AMA, they talked about wanting visitors to have a creative approach and response to your programming, and also the importance of flexibility.

  • Make content relatable to people’s own lives – put it in context.
  • Importance of research – you can gauge the level of understanding and engagement through direct contact with the audience. If you don’t have an understanding of this, then you’re only guessing on how your target audience will like your product, and you could get it completely wrong.

One way is to test a single content idea with an audience, and allowing them to engage with it and then feed back. This will be through a number of approaches such as focus groups, interview and observation. This gives you both quantitative and qualitative data.

Generally, I’m used to doing post-content research, which tends to be more survey-based. Face-to-face feedback is also very important, especially from those at the highest level and lowest level of engagement – those people who come all the time, and are often involved in other ways such as volunteering or through patron programmes, and  then those for whom it might be the first time in years, or at all.

Visitor Profiling

The next section discussed visitor segmentation and profiling, via two methods. One was used to understand what particular factors prompt someone to visit, and is based of surveying and visit recollection.

  1. EXPLORERS, generic interest in the content, wan to  find something that will grab their attention
  2. FACILITATORS – enabling the experience and learning of others in their accompanying group.
  3. PROFESSIONALS/HOBBYISTS – coming for specific content related to their job/hobby/studies
  4. EXPERIENCE SEEKERS – See the museum itself as an important destination
  5. RECHARGERS – looking for ‘a contemplative, spiritual and restorative experience’

The other profiling method was more psychological-based, as well as surveying visitors on their experience of the exhibitions, they also used sensors on visitors to track heartbeat and reactions to exhibits, as well as mapping their path through the venue. This produced three visitor profile types. (Note, this profiling was done specifically on contemporary art gallery visitors, which may have produced both a smaller and narrower sample size of visitors.)

  1. THE CONTEMPLATIVE VISITOR. These visitors like to move around alone, to think about the art work, to reflect
  2. THE ENTHUSIASTIC VISITOR who does not come alone, is generally older and likes to chat about the art.
  3. THE SOCIAL VISITOR goes because of company, talks while at exhibition (although not necessarily about the art).

This form of segmentation is slightly different to the demographic – based work that I’m used to, primarily through Audience Finder’s Audience Spectrum, and Experian’s Mosaic, though it is somewhat like MHM’s Culture Segments.

The next sections of the course cover different audience groups and how to reach them, then how to use social media as a learning tool.


(Image above from Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Insel Museum, Berlin by Mike Steele, original here)


Future Learn Digital Analysis Notes for Week Two

This was only a two week short course, but the same provider is running a number of other free courses via Future Learn that I will be looking at! Though I only ended up writing a small amount of notes, it was still a great, quick way to keep myself refreshed on marketing and research techniques, some of which I might need to use in my job very soon.

Week two: Segmentation

This is splitting your followers into groups according to their behaviours and preferences in order to market the right products to them.

In order to build these segments and to analyse whether they are working for you, you have to build context into your data, by creating both internal and external benchmarks, so you can compare your current success both to previous data and to the success other your competitors.

  • Missions statements, a successful company generally has a customer-oriented one
  • A strategy should be focussed on the specifics of the business and what makes it unique
  • KPIs need to be tangible measurements and numbers, relevant to your strategy
  • Once you know how a customer came to your company (via an offer, website etc) you can start to build a profile and segment your demographics

There will always be challenges in acquiring data – some of it may be incomplete or wrong, so try to focus on the overall pattern and what it tells you.