Education Museums, Education, and Curriculum
Elee Wood
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0205


The relationship between museums, education, and curricula is complex. Many early museums—established in order to study, showcase, and preserve collections of art, artifacts, and specimens—typically had narrowly defined educational goals or purposes. Over time and particularly by the 20th century, museums reframed their focus as locations for informal and lifelong or life wide learning and catered to a range of audiences including school groups. The educational role of museums reflects an intentional approach in planning for learning through a variety of strategies including exhibitions, “live” and informal interpretation experiences, formal programming, field trip experiences and written lesson plans or study guides. The unique nature of museum environments as locations for learning provides ample opportunities to study the role of museums in formal education through field trips, study collections, partnerships and outreach; training of teachers and teachers in training; the learning structures and strategies employed in exhibitions, programs, and curricular resources; and the establishment of formal schools within the museum setting.

General Overviews

The educational goals of museums have a long history grounded in their basic missions and museums have expanded the strategies and intensity of educational practice throughout the 20th century. Hooper-Greenhill 1999 is an edited volume providing an overview of museum education practices; it draws on a range of philosophies and practices that span multiple disciplines. Hein 1998 outlines educational philosophies contributing to the basic practices of museum education and offers discussion on the role and value of museum learning. Notably, the discussion on the relationship between the practices of museum education and curriculum have expanded in the past several decades as the field of curriculum studies became more established as in Lindauer 2015. Considering the role of curriculum in the museum has become important discourse among museum educators, beginning with Beer 1987 examining whether museums have defined curricular goals to the more contemporary application of curriculum practices of knowledge production in Rose 2006 and the broader implications of intentionally designed experiences in Roberts 2006. Both Vallance 2004 and Burchenal and Grohe 2007 explore the curricular role of museums stemming from the stance of art and art education, and Stocklmayer, et al. 2010 outlines the relationship between science education curriculum and schools. Garcia 2012 brings discussion on broader school learning outcomes to museum goals.

  • Beer, Valorie. 1987. Do museums have “curriculum”? The Journal of Museum Education 12.3: 10–13.

    Example of the emerging discussions in the museum field on the role of curriculum as a function of museum spaces. Describes key ideas in broadening the idea of curriculum beyond formal education and into “nonschool” settings. Available online with subscription.

  • Burchenal, Margaret, and Michelle Grohe. 2007. Thinking through art: Transforming museum curriculum. Journal of Museum Education 32.2: 111–122.

    DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2007.11510563

    Develops a connection between needs of school children and the specific programming opportunities offered by art museums.

  • Garcia, Ben. 2012. What we do best. Journal of Museum Education 37.2: 47–55.

    DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2012.11510730

    Defines museum learning in contrast to formal educational systems and argues for new ways to ascribe learning in the museum setting.

  • Hein, George. 1998. Learning in the museum. London: Routledge.

    Application of educational philosophies in the museum experience. Includes an examination of research methods in museums as well as strategies for developing exhibitions and learning experiences.

  • Hooper-Greenhill, Eilean. 1999. The educational role of the museum. 2d ed. London: Routledge.

    Edited volume geared toward museum professionals that incorporates a broad view of educational theory and practice as it plays out in the museum setting. Includes discussion on different museum audiences and approaches to learning.

  • Lindauer, Margaret A. 2015. Looking at museum education through the lens of curriculum theory. Journal of Museum Education 31.2: 79–80.

    DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2006.11510534

    Short overview of the concept of curriculum studies as it applies to museum education practices.

  • Roberts, Patrick. 2006. Am I the public I think I am?: Understanding the public curriculum of museums as “complicated conversation.” Journal of Museum Education 31.2: 105–112.

    DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2006.11510537

    Case study on a museum exhibition and the role of curriculum theory in museum education.

  • Rose, Julia. 2006. Shared journeys curriculum theory and museum education. Journal of Museum Education 31.2: 81–93.

    DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2006.11510535

    Explores the relationships between curriculum theory and museum education practices. Focuses on the role of knowledge production, democratization of the museum, and the role of museum interpretation in shaping knowledge.

  • Stocklmayer, Susan M., Léonie J. Rennie, and John K. Gilbert. 2010. The roles of the formal and informal sectors in the provision of effective science education. Studies in Science Education 46.1: 1–44.

    DOI: 10.1080/03057260903562284

    Article on the role of collaboration between museums and science education in formal education settings and how it can better support student learning. Examines critiques of formal science education and the role of informal learning approaches to augment learning.

  • Vallance, Elizabeth. 2004. Museum education as curriculum: Four models, leading to a fifth. Studies in Art Education 45.4: 343–358.

    DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2006.11510535

    Describes classic curricular models in relation to art education practices in museums. Proposes a new model that integrates art museum practice with traditional curriculum theory.

  • Villeneuve, P., ed. 2007. From periphery to center: Art museum education in the 21st century. Reston, VA: National Art Education Association.

    Edited volume that provides insight into the changing nature of education within art museums. Addresses theory and practice as well as current issues and emphasizes the role of art museum educators and approaching new audiences.

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