Week Four: Theories of Knowledge and Learning. An overview.

“The law that Nature makes no jumps, can be taught by the history of mechanical contrivances, in such way as at least to make men cautious how they listen to scatter-brained revolutionary suggestions. The knowledge of the facts of evolution, and of the processes of gradual development, is the one great knowledge that we have to inculcate, whether in natural history or in the arts and institutions of mankind; and this knowledge can be taught by museums, provided they are arranged in such a manner that those who run may read. The working classes have but little time for study; their leisure hours are, and always must be, comparatively brief.” (Pitt-Rivers 1891) Pitt-Rivers is a contradictory character, a man seemingly both of his time, and ahead of his time. Despite his almost post-modern assertion that museum displays should be arranged so that visitors can make their own connections and come their own conclusions, he has a very clear idea what those conclusions should be. Museum educators have drawn on theories of communication and education to help them do their job better. Hooper-Greenhill (1997, 67-72), has summarised recent developments, beginning in the middle of the last century, when behaviourist education theory and the transmission model of communication was dominant. This model implies a power relationship between the communicator and the receiver. Within a interpretative environment context this might represent the power a curator has to choose what messages an exhibition presents to its visitors. A marxist approach might suggest it represents how the ruling classes use museums to reinforce the dominant ideology and discourage revolution, as demonstrated by the writings of Pitt-Rivers above. Hooper-Greenhill suggests that this is a concept that has had its day. As an advocate of the post-modern, or perhaps more accurately post-structuralist, interpretative environment she argues that “reality has no finite identity, but is brought into existence, is produced, through communication” (Hooper-Greenhill 1997, 70), and that communication is a cultural process. Her model represents how “beliefs are shared and explored together through communicative acts” (Hooper-Greenhill 1999b, 17). Within this model, it seems interpretative environments are no more than meeting places, where individuals come together to negotiate their beliefs. If so, why not simply put the entire collection in open storage and rely on the visitors to construct their own understanding? Hooper Greenhill (1999b, 12) explains that “the construction of understanding, is reached through the process of interpretation,” but the interpretation to which she refers is not that which is most familiar to interpretative environment professionals. She draws on hermeneutics

to suggest that “the construction of meaning depends on prior knowledge, and on beliefs and values.” It follows that individuals from different cultures will interpret things in different ways, because the individuals within those cultures share different beliefs and values. Thus individuals within an “interpretive community” are those which share a common way of constructing meaning or “interpretive strategy” (Hooper Greenhill 1999b, 12-13). It should be noted that HooperGreenhill’s interpretive strategy is the not object of this study, partly because the interpretative environment community has a somewhat different understanding of the word “interpretation.” It is an understanding that Hooper-Greenhill summarises thus: “In the museum, interpretation is done for you, or to you” (Hooper-Greenhill 1999b, 12). Hooper-Greenhill admits that the weakness of the cultural model of communications “is the failure to recognise that social processes are not equal” (Hooper-Greenhill 1999b, 17). The power imbalances self-evident in contemporary society are absent from her model, just as they are oversimplified in the transmission model above. A relatively new idea might suggest where the power lies in such a cultural model. Not in the dominant ideology, not in society or in the individual, neither in the transmitter or the receiver but rather in what is being communicated. Dawkins (1976, 142-3) suggests that cultural communication is the manifest process of the replication of “a unit of cultural transmission” which he has termed a meme. His idea of the “selfish meme” is analogous to his “selfish gene” which drives evolution and builds “vehicles” or organic lifeforms purely to aid the gene’s replication. Memes use the human brain as only one of a variety of vehicles for transmission and replication. Just as genes combine to build increasingly sophisticated gene-complexes, from viruses though amoeba to plants and animals, so do memes combine to create memecomplexes or “memeplexes” (Blackmore 1999, 219-234). Blackmore draws on her Zen Buddhist beliefs and the work of Dennett (Hofstadter and Dennett 1982) to suggest that even an individual’s sense of self is just such a memeplex. Other memeplexes manifest themselves as tunes, catch-phrases or more sophisticated technologies like religions, museums or television, united in one aim, to ensure the survival of their component memes. This is a function already recognised in museums which “began as human society’s equivalent of cultural memory banks... Though the prime medium is tangible objects, the essential value of collections is the information contained in them and what it means to the global community.” (Dean 1994, 1). Inherent in a interpretative environment’s mission are the memes that drive it. Conservative in nature, they are not unwilling to adapt to the cultural environment by forming new memeplexes with the memes that are brought into the interpretative environment by visitors. Such is their survival strategy. Interpretative environments can draw on a range of traditional and contemporary learning theories developed mainly by psychologists and researchers outside the museum sector.” Most research has been done in the classroom rather than the exhibition gallery, and the two environments are very different. Roberts (1990,

19; 1993, 97) draws on Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives to argue that interpretative environments are more suited to affective learning (which is “related to feelings, emotions, attitudes and values”) than either cognitive or psychomotor learning (which happen in the classrooms and on the playing fields of our schools and colleges). Yet she concedes that cognitive learning goals are easier to test and so “too often affective goals are lumped together under the single (but by no means trivial) aim of ‘providing a pleasant experience’” (Roberts 1990, 19). McManus (1993, 108-113) argues that the division between cognitive and affective learning is a false one. By valuing either one above the other the we fail to realise that the two are intertwined, that affective learning provides the motivation for cognitive learning and vice versa. Many researchers (Chambers 1990, 10; Gunther 1989, 126-129; and Hein 1998, 145-146) draw on the work of Csikszentmihalyi on motivation. A behaviourist by tradition, Csikszentmihalyi suggested the concept of flow, an almost transcendental state, to explain why individuals do activities like rock climbing for no apparent reward. Interpretative environments, which offer little by way of extrinsic reward, should aim for flow in the visitor: “what we really hope will happen is that they have a flow experience... in which their intelligence and feelings will become one, and this challenge will be their joy” (Gunther 1989, 129). One of the three conditions of flow is that “the tasks must be equal to one’s present ability to perform” (Chambers 1990, 10). If the tasks within a museum are learning based, they must be many and varied. To be equal, neither too easy nor too challenging, to the abilities of all the museum’s target markets, the tasks must also be flexible. Bloom’s taxonomy, though criticised (McManus 1993, 109) suggests not only that there are three types of learning, but that individuals perform in each type with varying degrees of success. Perhaps an interpretation strategy should set out learning tasks that utilise all three types of learning? Alas, it is not that simple, Gunther (1989, 122) refers to McCarthy’s 4Mat system of not three but four learning types, or styles (see figure 2.1). McCarthy’s system is a development of Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory and both are based upon plotting individuals on a pair of axes (Hein 1998, 24). A third similar system, designed specifically for museum interpretation, has been set out by Serrell based on McCarthy’s and work at Toledo Museum of Art (Hinton 1998, 263-264). Figure 2.1: Characteristics of four learning styles (Hooper-Greenhill and MacLeod 1999 , 56 (based upon Cassels, R. 1996 “Learning Styles” in Durbin, G. ed. Developing Museum Exhibitions for Lifelong Learning, London: TSO, 2124)) It might be even more complicated. According to Howard Gardner, people show a mix of, not four learning styles but, “seven intelligences - linguistic, musical, logical-mathmatical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal”

(Hein 1998, 165). Davis and Gardner (1993, 100-1) make the point that individuals do not have one type of intelligence to the exclusion of all others, but will develop at different rates and to different extents in a mixture of them, and such natural talents may develop or be starved depending upon the environment. “Museums are in a ready position to (or already do) value, employ and cater to all intelligences.” Gardner, McCarthy and Serrell have focused on adult learners, the situation becomes even more complicated when the developmental theories of Piaget are added to the mix. Piaget suggests that learning develops with age. If the individual has not experienced and developed enough, certain modes of learning are not yet available. (Cole 1995, 226-7) Most museum professionals agree that “interpretation for children ... should not be a dilution of the presentation to adults, but should follow a fundamentally different approach” (Tilden 1977, 47). Jensen (1982, 110-117) briefly sets out how Piaget’s theories illuminate the behaviour and learning potential of museum visitors from different agegroups. All of this research into learning theory illustrates just how complicated setting learning goals can be, especially if the museum aims to have broad appeal. Interpretative environments must forget the assumption that they serve everyone in the same way. “The fact that the majority of people in any given community are non-museum-goers suggests that museums are better off to segment and target their audiences” (Kotler and Kotler 1998, 124). The advantage of regarding interpretation as the main tangible product of the museum is that a number of different interpretation products can be created that serve a number of different market segments, from within the same space and using the same collection. This highlights the need for specified target markets in interpretive strategies. But even if a museum intends to focus on a single segment such as families with children, the evidence above indicates that they will be dealing with a wide variety of learning styles and developmental stages. At the very least the interpretation strategy should include different interpretive goals for each target segment. It might also be profitable to further segment the segments, dividing the potential audience according to learning styles, interests or age, and setting out separate goals for each. Further reading: Online: http://www.gem.org.uk/pubs/news/hein1995.html A piece on constructivism by Hein http://www.learning-styles-online.com/inventory/Memletics-Learning-StylesInventory.xls A learning styles test (most of the decent ones are pay only) http://www.inspiringlearningforall.gov.uk/ Generic Learning Oucomes or GLOs. I don’t have much time for these.

Blackmore, S. 1999. The meme machine, Oxford: Oxford University PressCsikszentmihalyi, M. and Hermanson, K. 1999. “Intrinsic motivation in museums: why does one want to learn?” in Hooper-Greenhill 1999a, 146-60 Davidson, B., Heald, C.L. and Hein, G.E. 1991. “Increased exhibit accessibility through multisensory interaction,” in Hooper-Greenhill 1999a, 223-38 Davis, J. and Gardener, H. 1993. ‘Open windows, open doors’, in HooperGreenhill 1999a, 99-104 Dawkins, R. 1976. ‘Selfish Genes and selfish Memes’ in Hofstadter and Dennett 1981, 124-44 Dean, D., 1994. Museum exhibition: theory and practise, London: Routledge Gunther, C. F. “Museum-goers: lifestyles and learning characteristics” in HooperGreenhill 1999a, 118-30 Ham, S. H. 1983. “Cognitive psychology and interpretation: synthesis and application,” in Hooper-Greenhill 1999a, 161-71 Hein, G. E. 1998. Learning in the museum, London: Routledge Heritage Resource Agency, 2000. Museum of British Road Transport: interpretation strategy, unpublished Heumann Gurian, E. 1982. “Museums’ relationship to education,” in Hanson, Anderson and Verstergaard 1982, 17-20 Hinton, M. 1998. “The Victoria and Albert Museum silver galleries II: Learning style and interpretation preference in the discovery area” in Museum Management and Curatorship, 17, 3, 253-94 Hofstadter, D. R. and Dennett D. C., eds, 1982. The mind’s I - fantasies and reflections on self and soul, London: Penguin Hooper-Greenhill, E. 1992. “Audiences: a curatorial dilema” in Hooper-Greenhill 1999a, 255-68 — 1994a. Museum and gallery education, London: Leicester University press — 1994b. “Learning from learning theory in museums” in Hooper-Greenhill 1999a, 137-45 — 1997. “Museum learners as active postmodernists: contextualizing constructivism,” in Hooper-Greenhill 1999a, 67-72 — 1999a. The educational role of the museum (2nd ed), London: Routledge — 1999b. “Education, communication and interpretation: towards a critical pedagogy in museums,” in Hooper-Greenhill 1999a, 3-27 — 1999c. “Learning in art museums: strategies of interpretation,” in HooperGreenhill 1999a, 44-52 — 2000. Museums and the interpretation of visual culture, London: Routledge Keene, S., ed, 1999. A netful of jewels : new museums in the learning age : a report from the National Museum Directors' Conference London: National Museum Directors' Conference Kotler, P., and Andreasen A. R. 1995. Strategic marketing for non-profit organisations, Upper Saddle River NJ: Prentice Hall Kotler, N. and Kotler, P. 1998. Museum strategy and marketing: designing missions, building audiences, generating revenue and resources, San Francisco CA: Jossey-Bass Inc. McManus, P. M. 1993. “Thinking about the visitor’s thinking,” in Bicknell and

Farmelo 1993, 108-13 Perry, D. L. 1993. “Designing exhibits that motivate” in Association of ScienceTechnology Centres 1993, 25-9 Pitt-Rivers, H., 1891 ‘Typological museums, as exemplified by the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford, and his provincial museum at Farnham’ in Journal of the Society of Arts, 40, 115-22

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