Educational Approaches and Contexts in the Development of a Heritage Museum


Source: Journal of Experiential Education, 2017

Educational museums are composed of objects, documents, and narratives that together create a learning experience. Existing models of museum education tend to analyze the visitor experience, but rarely take into consideration the unique characteristics and challenges of multicultural heritage museums. Purpose: This article proposes a conceptual model of experiential multicultural museum education that delineates teaching approaches in multicultural museum education.

This article proposes a conceptual model of experiential multicultural museum education that delineates teaching approaches in multicultural museum education. It is grounded in the framework of conceptual research aimed at identifying and clarifying key characteristics and educational concepts raised by museum’s designers and educators. The analysis it presents is based on insights learned during the design of the Interactive Jewish Museum of Chile.


The major contribution of this article is the development of a conceptual model that allows for the identification of three approaches in multicultural museum education: the academic-educational approach, the artistic approach, and the identity-cultural approach. Our model can be applied to other heritage museums, and can be useful for the training and development of formal and informal educators interested in including multicultural heritage museums as experiential learning spaces.

The present article discusses the application of experiential multicultural education in a Jewish heritage museum in Chile. This museum is a technology-rich, didactic environment established with the vision, put forward by the founders, of creating a friendly and flexible educational environment that will enable various audiences to enjoy, familiarize themselves with, and deepen their understanding of topics in Jewish history and heritage throughout the ages (Bonn, Joseph-Mathews, Dai, Hayes, & Cave, 2007; Ott & Pozzi, 2011). We use our experiences with this museum to elaborate the proposed model of experiential museum education and to discuss the contributions this model provides to considering experiential education on the whole.

The article is organized as follows. In the first section, we locate multicultural education within the theoretical framework of experiential education, and address the connection between the two. Next, we explain and describe the museum design and the proposed three approaches for the multicultural museum education model. The third part focuses on the analysis performed in the context of the conceptual research addressing the analysis of the museum contexts, where the focus is a heritage museum. In this section, we will present the multicultural model of museum education. The article concludes with some recommendations for future design projects based on experiential multicultural education and for experiential education models in general.

Summary and Conclusion

This article examined how the multicultural museum education model can contribute to the shaping of a pedagogical approach to professional and teacher training that is based in experiential learning and education. In addition, this model represents a conceptual basis and a practical instrument for the museum educator in developing educational programs and educational visits in a heritage museum within the framework of experiential education. The multicultural museum education model is a combination of the visitor’s experiential contexts—physical, personal, social, ethno-cultural, and digital (Dierking & Falk, 1992; Dorfsman & Horenczyk, 2014; Falk et al., 1998)—and three types of educational approaches: academic-educational, artistic, and identity-cultural.

The educator who adopts the academic approach will be likely to implement educational activities focusing on disciplinary aspects in the educational visit, including historical, social, and cultural aspects. In every visitor’s experience, the primary concern of this type of educator will be to bring about a more profound understanding of the events, phenomena, and authentic objects, when available, in the museum environment. This educator’s goal is to encourage deep cognitive engagement with the contents exhibited in the museum environment—such as intellectual curiosity and critical thinking.

The educator who adopts the artistic approach will tend to focus on the experiential and emotional aspects of the educational environment, and, to that end, will expose visitors to exhibits whose aim is to generate excitement, emotion, and admiration. An environment rich with multimedia videos and digital stimuli will provoke a similar type of relationship in visitors. A historic tale of heroism that leads to identification is an example of the emphasis in this teaching approach, with the goal of encouraging the visitor’s emotional and affective involvement.

Last but not least, the educator who adopts the identity-cultural approach delineated in this study will tend to make use of activity in every possible context to encourage the visitor to connect with the museum environment through the prism of identity. This type of educator aspires to connect various cultural groups to the specific message conveyed by the heritage museum. If the visiting group is synonymous with the heritage group (e.g., Jewish visitors to the Jewish Museum), most likely the connection is a cultural association with that “in-group,” and the goals will be the reinforcement and consolidation of identity and affiliation aspects with that group. If the visiting group hails from a different cultural group (e.g., non-Jewish visitors to the Jewish Museum), the educational goals will be to facilitate intercultural encounter and dialogue, as methods to build paths of mutual understanding and to the sharing of common values.

As stated, we proposed a conceptual model whose aim is to contribute to identifying different educational approaches and teaching approaches in a museum environment. In reality, the educator does not remain limited to one teaching approach, but will, for the most part, vary the approaches used. In addition, the approaches them-selves are not pure: identity-cultural educational activity will be effective only inasmuch as it rests on a solid disciplinary base and on emotional factors that affect the visitor. The purpose of the model is to provide the educator with a conceptual tool that can inform his or her design of the educational museum activity. For example, if we apply our teaching approaches to dealing with the Shoah, we may discover the following: The academic approach will tend to approach this phenomenon from a historical and cultural perspective, offering a basic understanding of the phenomenon, its causes, context, and so on; the artistic approach will tend to develop an aesthetic perspective on the phenomenon through images, literary work, and individual testimonies, aiming to affectively impact the visitor; and the ethno-cultural approach will feel a need to promote the development of social and cultural values, with the double aim of strengthening both in-group belonging and cohesiveness on one hand, and out-group empathy and bridges of intergroup understanding on the other. 

Updated: Feb. 12, 2018