Engaging Visitors and Audiences

Module code: MU7507

Module co-ordinator: Katy Bunning

This module is concerned with how museums impact audiences in a variety of ways, and how they contribute to learning. It presents leading-edge ideas within research and practice on museum participation and co-creation and encourages a creative discussion on developing relationships with audiences. Each of the units contributes some answers to the following questions: How can museums foster engagement, work collaboratively, and make a positive contribution to people’s lives? What do we know about how the museum impacts upon visitors and audiences? How might we research audiences, and evaluate provision? How should museums define and engage with their audiences in the twenty-first century?

Topics Covered

Unit 1 - Studying visitors and audiences

This unit lays the basis for the development of a good understanding of the theory and practice of visitor studies through assessing a number of overviews and through close analysis of a range of studies carried out from diverse perspectives. It also examines the ways in which we might understand and approach the study of audiences.

Unit 2 - Marketing, communication and audiences

You will be introduced to a range of communication theories, providing a chance to reflect on the way these have influenced practice in museums and galleries. This unit takes us from approaches based in media ‘effects’, and audience ‘uses and gratifications’, through ‘encoding/decoding’ to the ‘spectacle/performance paradigm’ and aims to place ideas about communication in museums, galleries and heritage sites in relation to these approaches.

Unit 3 - Learning theories

Unit 3 focuses on the application and development of learning theory in the museum context. The work of George Hein, John Falk and Lyn Dierking, and Lynda Kelly, as well as the work of the author of this unit, Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, will all be discussed, before examining the research promoted by the Enquire programme of ENGAGE (the English National Association of Gallery Educators). This unit also introduces science learning, and an exploration of Wenger’s concept of communities of practice.

Unit 4 - Interpretive, learning and teaching strategies

We will look at evidence of how visitors, both adults and children, respond to museums, galleries and heritage sites, and how we might research and analyse their responses. The unit begins by reviewing the concepts of interpretive and learning strategies, and the notion of ‘interpretive communities’. Part of this unit asks you to have a go yourself with some data collected by the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries at Leicester. Following this, we will be looking at various teaching strategies appropriate for cultural sites, using a number of case studies to support our discussion.

Unit 5 - Evaluating learning

This unit follows on from the previous units by attempting to look in more detail at what is behind the need to develop learning outcomes and account for learning in museums, galleries and cultural organisations. Following this, we take a critical look at different approaches to evaluation including Outcomes Based Planning and Evaluation, the Generic Learning Outcomes, and Personal Meaning Mapping

Unit 6 - Children, families and museums

We will look at the current research into how children respond to museums and museum workshops, from both their teachers’ and their own perspectives. What do we know about how children respond to museum experiences? This unit aims to place these discussions in the context of theories of learning introduced earlier in the module. The unit concludes with an in-depth look at family learning and experiences in museums.

Unit 7 - Adults, life-long learning and museums

We will review research into, and provision for, adults as learners within museums, galleries and cultural organisations. This unit looks in detail at the notions of ‘life long learning’ and ‘adult education’, exploring the usefulness of these terms for the museum context. This unit also aims to encourage you to develop your ideas about the characteristics of adults as learners.

Unit 8 - Consultation, co-creation and participatory approaches

This unit delves further into the ways in which museums involve communities, visitors and audiences in their work. New forms of collaboration between museum 'experts' and non-specialists are examined, and key issues around the sharing of authority, and the issues of funding are highlighted through a range of insightful readings and examples. This unit also touches on museums' widespread take-up of social media and what this means for museum-audience relationships.

Unit 9 - Social justice and human rights

Unit 9 explores the museum’s increasing concern for examining – and engaging audiences in debates relating to – contemporary social issues. It draws on a range of examples to problematize but also to build support for the part that museums might play in presenting (and seeking to effect change around) a range of social justice and human rights issues.

Unit 10 - Museums, health and wellbeing

Unit 10 draws on recent research by the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (2014) to provide an overview of the role that museums and galleries may play in health and wellbeing.


  • 225 hours of guided independent study


  • Essay, 4,000 – 5,000 words (100%)