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Free online courses: Why they’re great for museum professionals and our top five picks

Free online courses: Why they’re great for museum professionals and our top five picks

Black and white. Man on a computer.

Learning is part of the fabric of heritage organisations; heritage professionals facilitate lifelong learning daily. Yet, as highlighted by the 2016 Character Matters report, sector professionals could do more to improve their own learning and development. The Delivery Plan for 2018 to 2020, published this May, suggests that the workforce’s heritage-specific and entrepreneurial skillsets should develop through partnerships, shadowing, secondments and mentoring opportunities. However, as suggested by the original report, employees are currently overworked and the two main barriers to CPD are lack of time and the inconvenient locations of training opportunities.

One solution to these issues is online learning. Though by no means a replacement for the suggestions made in the report and delivery plan, online learning is a useful complement to more intensive learning and it is increasingly popular due to its flexibility, cost effectiveness and ease of use. Online courses vary in the level of difficulty and the time required from the learner; there is something for everyone. Whether you are a student looking to dip your toe into the heritage world, or a mid-career professional looking to stimulate fresh ideas and top up your skills, online courses are only a click away.

For those who benefit from group learning, online courses often have in-build opportunities for debate and discussion. All courses on Future Learn, for example, have a comments section that enables lively discussion and allows participants to exchange ideas and best practice. Alternatively, you could complete the course alongside a colleague to facilitate shared learning.

Museums and museum studies training providers are gradually taking advantage of digital learning platforms. The future may bring many more courses that will enable sector professionals to build their skills anywhere, at any time.

Here is a roundup of five relevant courses running now:

1. ‘Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum’

This is a recurring course, run by the University of Leicester and using National Museums Liverpool as a case study. The course covers a host of topics, including the museum’s role in promoting social justice and human rights and the museum’s impact upon health and wellbeing. The course is hugely popular, with over 11,000 participants from around the globe on the first cycle of the course alone. The international viewpoints in the comments section are particularly interesting and thought provoking.

Future Learn – Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum

2. ‘The Museum as a Site and Source for Learning’

The University of Glasgow has developed a course that highlights the museum’s role in learning. From learning strategies, to the use of social media in learning, to the challenges of enabling engagement with contemporary art, this course is a great start for those looking to learn about or exchange ideas upon the museum’s educational function.

Future Learn – Museum Learning

3. ‘Museums as Spaces for Wellbeing’

As the sector is becoming attuned to its potential to promote health and wellbeing, this course is a handy guide which members of the National Alliance for Museums, Health and Wellbeing team have designed to enable you to develop, deliver and evaluate health and wellbeing work in your cultural organisation.

UCL – Museums as Spaces for Wellbeing

4. ‘Collection Care E-learning Resources’ by the Museum of London

Invaluable and wide-ranging, these courses are great for sector entrants or those looking to refresh their collection care skills. These online e-learning resources are a great example of how museums can create a lasting resource to share best practice.

Museum of London – Collections Care E-Learning Resources

5. Courses to develop your business skills

There are too many high-quality free business courses online to list in one paragraph. Both Future Learn and Open Learn regularly add new courses that can hone your entrepreneurial skills and allow you to interact with fellow learners from other sectors. The Character Matters report highlights the necessity of developing business skills, so these courses can act as a starting point and a time efficient learning experience.

Open Learn business courses
Future Learn business courses

If you would like to read more from Culture Syndicates about training, employability and skills within the sector, see our post on T-shaped skills.

By Natasha Clegg, Projects Officer for Culture Syndicates

  • Yvonne Campbell
    Posted at 9:13 am, 23rd February 2020

    Hello, I am interested in attending a couse or training that helps me with some insight into developing business skills which I can utilise for future projects with the field of running my own museum.
    I have no prior experience or degree on this subject. What courses would you recommend.

  • Posted at 11:28 am, 15th April 2020

    Just Googled “free museum courses” to help my students gain skills during Covid lockdown when they can’t be undertaking placements and this came up, thank you, this is really useful!

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