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Over the past six weeks, I have been participating in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) offered from the Museum Studies Department at the University of Leicester, done in partnership with National Museums Liverpool. The University of Leicester is known to have one of the best Museum Studies programs worldwide, so as someone based in Canada, I was very excited to be able to participate in a course offered by them.

The MOOC, hosted by FutureLearn.com, was a six week experience diving into the ideas, concepts and theories surrounding what a 21st Century museum should be, and what museums of the future will look like.

In the first week, we looked at building a 21st Century museum, by examining the case study of the new Museum of Liverpool, which opened in 2011. We discussed the importance of working with your community, and engaging the stories and histories of your visitors. In our second week, we examined our visitors a little bit closer. Who visits museums? Why don’t some people visit museums? What are some barriers that prevent people from accessing or feeling welcome in a museum? We also studied the ‘Kids in Museums’ movement, and a number of the learners discussed how museums can balance their two primary responsibilities – conserving the past, yet making it accessible to the public.

In the third week, we looked at how museums and emotions work together, and in the fourth week, we looked at how museums can impact current human rights issues.  These two weeks were tied as my favourite, because they addressed topics closest to my own area of study – namely, the impact that museums can have on social memory. In these weeks, we examined a number of case studies from exhibitions where emotions played a key part. Topics included death, child abuse, slavery, child migration, as well as forms of discrimination including racism, sexism, homophobia and ableism. These exhibits were purposely meant to play on the visitors’ emotions and to stimulate a response from them. In some cases, the visitor is simply meant to reflect on the material presented. In others, the museum is actively trying to be a force for good, combating the social ills of the day. The main question that many learners discussed these weeks was: what is the role of the museum? Should it be a neutral player, presenting information with as little bias as possible? Or should the museum take a stance, showing visitors why and how they can make a difference? What is the museums’ responsibility?

In week five, we discussed how museums can contribute to well-being. Multiple studies have found that visiting museums make you happier! Check out this 2014 Article if you don’t believe me. But museums’ impacts can go deeper than that. The case studies we looked at included museums working to improve mental health, lower smoking rates, and stimulating memories in people with dementia.

In the final week of the course, we looked at the two biggest assets that museums have: objects (aka their collections) and people (staff, volunteers, the public). No museum can be successful without these two things! We also discussed what the museum of the future will look like. Will it be filled with amazing technology? Will it be completely unrecognizable from the museums we know today? We can’t predict the future, but either way, I’m excited to see.

A nice thing about FutureLearn is they give you an option at the end of your course to get a certificate showing your participation. For all other emerging museum professionals, it makes for a nice CV or portfolio addition! Here’s my digital Statement of Participation.

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Overall, I would heartily recommend this MOOC to anyone interested in the museum field. As some may know, I am currently completing the Museum Management and Curatorship Program at Fleming College (located in Ontario, Canada.) It is a very fast-paced, hands-on learning based program, so I found that this MOOC, with a emphasis on theory and case studies, nicely complemented the studies I am doing in class.

If you want to check out the MOOC, here’s a link:  https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/museum

There’s nothing more fun than learning something new.