The exhibition as a learning environment

Here in Estonia we generally regard educational work in museums as lessons for children and, in some cases, the organisation of lectures or film screenings. The educational aspect of the display is sometimes overshadowed by the ambitious ideas of the curators as well as complicated logistics. What exactly is an educational display? Naturally, one which speaks to the people deeply enough that, in addition to an experience, it leaves an impression upon their set of knowledge, skills and attitudes.

The Estonian Maritime Museum is working towards reaching out to their visitors better and better. So that visiting an exhibition would not only involve looking at things or reading, but would become an experience in itself. This, of course, means that sometimes it is necessary to compromise, as it is not always possible to satisfy the attention of both a 3-year-old and a 30-year-old alike. It is nevertheless vital that the exhibition teams of the museum would acknowledge the exhibitions not only as a medium for presenting new information, but as a learning environment.
For each exhibition, first the target groups to whom the exhibition is marketed are formalised, but as a family-oriented museum, one of our goals is always to offer something to enrich a family visitation. As the museum’s role is to be an intermediary for its collections and topic area, then we are trying to offer an educational programme for schools and/or kindergartens with each of our exhibitions. We are trying to move towards this mainly through recreational activities and volunteer involvement and time will tell whether we are going to find “our people” or continue on trying to move forward like we used to.

In addition to a relatively wide selection of museum lessons, thematic city camps for children, excursions and a series of lectures for adults (Merefoorum) which accompany each new exhibition, in the planning of the exhibition we have also thought through the route of the exhibition targeted to children along with journey maps or other assignments which make even those topics which are more complicated better accessible to children. Backpacking trips, very common elsewhere in the world, have not been met with great enthusiasm quite yet. Parents here lack the experience of learning together with their children in museums, but we are still carrying on with our enhanced museum experiences, because where else would the habit of visiting museums spark than from a museum itself? As for the senior citizens, we are perfecting our concept of offering thematic excursions for seniors on Wednesdays. This is a great opportunity to engage our employees better and to provide them with more varied and substantial tasks.

In the presentation I will give examples of the learning elements contained in our exhibitions and address both our shortcomings as well as successes, which we have been facing in the creation of a more educational museum.