Henrik Zipsane

The author regards heritage learning as an indispensable part of lifelong learning and the acquisition of key skills. With the use of examples, he shows how learning environments can be created in heritage institutions such as museums, archives and galleries, so that positive learning situations develop and knowledge and skills can be successfully transmitted. Henrik Zipsane, a history graduate of the University of Copenhagen, is currently Director of Jamtli -the regional museum in Jämtland in the middle of Sweden. This museum forms part of the Nordic Centre on Heritage Learning, dealing with research, development, education, training and the spread of information about heritage learning.

Heritage Learning: Not so Much a Question About the Past as About the Present, Here and Now

Francis Fukuyama almost 20 years ago proclaimed "The end of History" (Fukuyama 1989). What he was writing about was the impression that there seemed to be no demand for the big national or even universal narratives any more. The big narratives had been based on the belief that all members of a society can have a basic part of their social identity constructed by the use of the same elements from a "mutual" past. Fukuyama was among the first to formulate that the social and cultural basis of such a belief was disappearing.

But that is by no means the same as saying that there is no demand for other forms of experiencing the past or traces from the past. One might claim that instead of having one history to fit a lot of people we today see it being the norm that each person lives with many histories. The many different histories coexist without creating visible problems for the individual. By this practice the individual makes it possible to have many partial identities at the same time. You can and will be-long to many social groups and you will feel that you share identity with each group and with all the groups at the same time, but you will probably be alone in having this particular sum of identities and exactly this mixture which, in terms of identity, will be what constitutes your personality.

This possible flexibility in identities forms a central characteristic of modern or post-modern man and woman today. For the sake of simplicity I will here leave it at that and just refer to influential thinkers of late 20th Century such as Anthony Giddens and Zygmunt Bauman.

That people, at least in the developed parts of the world today, have to be ready for a life which brings changes throughout life creates great demands on both basic and continuing education and learning. As we are all different as learners and as learning needs also differ from person to person as well as over time, there is of course a huge demand for a great diversity in learning provision. At national and even more at international level such as UNESCO, the OECD and the EU, lifelong learning policy has been proclaimed essential to continuing development. With very little hesitation for instance, the EU in 2005 presented a list of key competences with elements of knowledge, skills and attitudes which can all be traced back to thinking within UNESCO and the OECD (Reading 2001, OECD 2002, EU 2005, Eurdice 2000 & Rasmussen 2006). It seems very likely that as one consequence of this educational and labour market policy we will see a continued rise in public demand for output from the traditional system of formal educational institutions (Field 2006). Today and even more strongly in the future we will also see the achievable competences from various education and learning systems described in ways that make them transnationally comparable (Edwards 2006). To meet the demands from the EU or other policymakers about key competences, comparability and outcomes from learning, it will not be enough in the future - and nor has it been in the past - for society to rely on the formal education system. Historically learning has been an area which many different institutions and organizations in society have divided among themselves (Ehlers 2006 & 2007). Even today there will be competences which are better learned - that is more efficiently learnt - in different learning environments as some people - children as well as adults - learn better in some environments than in others. (Ekholm & Härd 2000 & Jarvis 2007)

The possibilities for cultural heritage institutions in relation to postmodern thinking about learning have only to a small degree been subject to research (Insulander 2005 & Illeris 2006). Even in a leading country in terms of heritage learning research and development such as the UK, we for instance have seen very little research about the learning possibilities for adults in heritage institutions or even the possibilities of learning through cultural heritage and not about heritage (Clarke 2002 & MLA 2006). If we choose the broader meaning of the term learning, where man is a more or less active learner 24 hours a day, we find that the role played by heritage is studied in the sense that history is used for leisure (Jensen 1994, Aronsson 2005 & Zipsane 2005b) in opposition to history for purposes of power (Zander 2001). This is however still a long way from studying visitors as learners and that difference in perspective might explain why for example very little academic attention has been shown to adult learning in museums. (Anderson 2000 & Funch 2005)

If we choose to see museums and other heritage institutions as learning environments in the broad sense of learning it is suddenly easier to realize how learning in such environments has nothing or at least very little do with learning about the past. Instead we can open learning doors by using chosen experiences and interpretations about the past and exploit the possibilities in the transformation of these experiences into cultural heritage. This makes possible a very special learning process which deserves attention (Henriksen & Fröyland 1998 & Anderson 2000 & Clarke, Dodd, Hooper-Greenhill, O'Riain, Selfridge & Swift 2002).

We who know the museums from the inside also know and feel under our skin from our own experience how we can be overwhelmed by the feeling of the possibilities we just "know" are there, and it of course stimulates that feeling when we meet our users and hear their often made remarks about how nice and user friendly they find our museums. But it is not enough to say that the museums are nice when we want to understand them as learning environments. The same goes for archives and art galleries. To give an impression of what I call the possibilities as learning environments I will here just discuss four small cases and focus on the relation between the possible learning outcome and the concept of key competences. The cases have different target groups and therefore indicate the possible lifelong learning perspective of heritage learning.

Heritage Learning at Work in the Preschool Environment

When mothers or fathers come to Jamtli Open Air Museum and participate in special activities with their preschool age children we may ask why. More than fifteen years after the open preschool at the museum site started its work it is still in public demand. And the demand is even growing! Two pedagogical staff members from the museum lead activities in the old farmhouse environment together with some 20 children and as many parents and some days even grandparents.

The small children participate in activities where they wash, bake, milk the cow or the goat and take care of the harvest from the fields and the timber from the forest and all other sorts of activities which formed part of everyday life in the later part of the 19th Century. They borrow a dress or a sweater in 19th Century style and suddenly they belong to another time, another place and another world so that the fantasy becomes real. The old farmhouse timber building together with the specially de-signed 19th Century surroundings and their borrowed dress, as well as the pedagogical staff also dressed up in 19th Century costumes, form a world of its own. The small children's imaginative competences are enormous and therefore it is relatively easy to bring the children into the fantasy world of this special time and space. (Borgström 2003)

To function in that world the children need some help, and this is where the parents come into the centre of the activities. These often young parents know enough or think they know enough about the "old days" to help their children in the play activities.

In such surroundings it is possible to create learning situations where an important outcome is about mutual learning experience between two or three generations. But the learning outcome is also about some of the specific competences which you can learn from activities in a 19th Century environment. Such specific competences one might expect to be about the actual skills of that historical time. Those skills however probably only form a part of the new competences. The main outcome from the experience might be that you can only do certain things if you do them as team work. Or it could be the simple experience that people can live differently from what we do now, and the child may learn that certain things belong together in order to create a full picture in the imagination (Selmer-Olsen 1993). The horse, the cow, the hens and the goat all belong to a picture of a farm for the children who have participated in the activities of the preschool in the museum.

The use of possible imaginative so-called "time travel" is quite developed as a pedagogical method in its own right and with its own traditions for both children and adults even though the international spread of the method has its focus on school children and young adults (Westergren 2004 & 2006). The probable more sensitive nature of children of preschool age and the existence in that target group of stronger fantasy and sense of imagination do however indicate that the method of time travel is most efficient with the youngest children. (Borgström 2003)

Heritage Learning Competences and Development of Attitudes

The special competences of role play and the possibilities of this method within heritage learning can be used in a great variety of ways. But it all seems to come down to a learning outcome which is about stimulating the development of attitudes.

When the 9th grade school children participate in the pedagogical programme called "On the run!" at the Jamtli Open Air Museum the pedagogical staff at the museum will have told the ordinary teachers that the museum will probably change some attitudes for some of the children in three to four hours' time. That keeps neither the children nor the teachers away. In the pedagogical role play the children will be refugees and then asylum seekers. They will each have a personal identity of the person described in their individual manuscripts and they will be smuggled in different ways into an imagined country very similar to Sweden. Many of the children lose their few belongings on the way and some will unfortunately lose contact with a fellow refugee or another family member on the way to this country.

Well into the country the participants will experience several inter-views and the uncertainty natural to a life with no guarantee of the outcome. Even a short time of about half an hour spent in boredom in the refugee camp is experienced as very long and too long. In the refugee camp you can watch television in a language you do not understand and some of the pieces in the chess game are missing.

The participants will come to realize that the interpreters in the asylum centre may not at all times translate your answers or your questions in a way that satisfies your needs or expectations. At the end of the pedagogical programme the participants are told whether or not they will be granted the right to stay in the new country and as in real life only about 10-15 percent of the applicants - that is about 1 -2 out of the 20-30 participants in each programme - will get the green light.

The purpose of this pedagogical programme has been to stimulate attitudes of understanding about the difficult situation for both refugees and the officials who handle these cases about asylum seekers, and the programme actually seems to be very much in demand and is experienced as both stimulating and effective (Zipsane 2005a & 2005d). By questioning the young people before, during and after, and even some weeks after, the participation in this pedagogical programme it has even been indicated that the effect on the attitudes of the participants is profound. It seems that the impact on the attitudes of the young women is much stronger than on the young men. (Löfstrand & Zakrisson 2006)

We have got the impression that the participants in a pedagogical programme like "On the run!" are learning through activation of their sense of empathy. It is the experience of being angry, nervous, excited, bored, happy, and unhappy that the participants talk about when we ask them about their memories from the experience later. Of course they get some knowledge about the legislation and the statistics when the pedagogical staff from the museum introduce the programme. And of course the participants develop their skills as role players and as actors through the activities of the programme. But it is the change in attitudes we have focused on in both our description of the aims and in our evaluation of the programme.

So far our experience indicates that the way in to stimulating attitudes goes through the experience the learners get through their feelings. Practical experience underlines that the key to the success of this type of pedagogical programme is the use of the typical pedagogical competence of a museum which is familiar with role play and the right composition of learning aims in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes.

Heritage Learning and Production of Positive Learning Experiences

The environment of heritage institutions like archives, art galleries and museums has developed through many years into a special atmosphere. Very often the institutions seem to forget what has made them so special and what it is that makes them unique.

In the museum the visitor as well as the employees experience many different formal competences in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes, a creative environment, a strong impression of creativity and a sense of tranquillity coexisting with a productive atmosphere.

This special atmosphere is the strongest factor in shaping the museum as a learning environment with specific possibilities. People who have difficulties learning in other learning environments suddenly become more efficient learners in a museum (Henriksen & Fröyland 1999). This means that the museum can create positive learning experiences for people who under other circumstances actually are seen as losers.

"Museums are a non-threatening environment in which to learn. The adults they meet are not their teachers and can talk to them in a non-threatening way. By practising patience, observation and listening skills, the students emerge with greater confidence and self-esteem." (Lumley 2006)

The museum becomes a free zone with possible positive learning experiences, especially for some young people otherwise often de-scribed as misfitting youth who, because of their alienation, easily are marginalized. (Ziehe & Stubenrauch 1982)

The formal school system is getting better and better in the sense that it produces a higher quality of education and ever more complicated competences. The media often seem to forget that the school system actually works and that it works very well (OECD 2001 & Knoll 2004). What deserves more attention is the group of young people who leave the school system without adequate basic competences.

Early school leavers have been the focus for the Jamtli Open Air Museum for some time. Together with the Regional State Archive and a local Folk High School the museum has been engaged in creating positive learning experiences for these young people. The aim of the work has been to stimulate the participants to re-engage with the formal system of education or otherwise to achieve basic competences. The results have been very positive. Of the participants a third have re-entered school or have begun complementary studies at the Folk High School.

The exact reason why some of the participants become learners differs from person to person and sometimes it is quite normal for the successful participants almost to defend themselves by explaining that they naturally would have begun their studies with or without participation in the heritage learning activities, even though they would probably have waited a little longer! (Augusén 2006). But the impression from the activities so far is that what the participants learn in the museum and the archive is to concentrate, to produce some self-discipline and to engage with other people. The actual route to such learning experience is through stimulating curiosity and making the fulfilment of that basic curiosity dependent on concentration and engagement, which learners discover is based on self-discipline. (Zipsane 2007b)

Heritage Learning and Interaction with the Social Capital of Senior Citizens

The Jamtli Open Air Museum has the great fortune to have many friends. Some of the friends are organized in an association of friends. They are mostly retired people who seem to share one interest, namely the affection for Jamtli. In the Regional State Archive many people gather in their mutual interest in genealogy. These people are also mostly retired from normal working life and they are also often members of the local or regional association of genealogists. Such associations of genealogists also share affection for the archive.

Al these elderly people are engaged in activities in the heritage institutions, which may very well be described as learning processes (Davoren & O'Donoghue 2000). The difficulty in the task of description comes from the fact that the activities point in two different directions of learning. On the one hand the elderly people through their activities become the maintainers of knowledge, skills and attitudes which they transform into something which other people from an often younger generation may learn from. This is interactive intergenerational learning in its finest sense!

On the other hand the elderly people themselves become learners in the heritage institutions as they participate in the activities. This learning goes in many different directions and differs from person to person.

One person in the archive may have to learn how to use the internet in order to get interesting information for genealogy. Through the actual genealogy the person also learns something about structure and the advantages in structured searching both manually and in databases. The same person may also learn and relearn social competences in the relations with other people in the archive - fellow participants or staff.

Another person may be active in the Open Air Museum and participate in the group of people sewing and repairing costumes. This person in the same way as the person in the archive is learning or relearning both skills and social competences.

These people are in the heritage institutions because they want to participate in the activities. There is nothing about these activities which does not deserve to be described as heritage learning activities. The learning may consist of knowledge, skills and attitudes. Some way or another the learners here produce and consume social capital as they learn.

Heritage Learning - What is Working and Why is it Working?

In classical pedagogical literature it is again and again presupposed that the formal system of education is specially designed for learning processes with the foremost aim of learning knowledge even though naturally the learner always learns some skills and some attitudes in the same process.

In the same way one might expect that heritage institutions such as Open Air Museums are especially appropriate for learning which has stimulation or creation of attitudes as the foremost learning aim. If we take such a claim seriously we may understand what is happening in the heritage learning process.

The extraordinary learning possibilities of heritage all have to do with the special atmosphere which is so difficult to explain but which has its own attractive power over people. It seems symptomatic that with a growing interest in the impact of learning in museums in the United Kingdom the classical division of learning into knowledge, skills and attitudes was suddenly not enough. There was a need for a broader description of the heritage learning outcome (MLA 2005). Under the title "Generic Learning Outcome" the divisions of learning became as follows:

  • Knowledge and understanding
  • Skills
  • Attitudes and values
  • Activity behaviour and progression
  • Enjoyment, inspiration and creativity

The point here is that from a classical perspective on learning the learning outcome "activity behaviour and progression" and "enjoyment, inspiration and creativity" would be seen as parts of the outcome called "attitudes". The extra subdivisions apparently reflect the need for broader understanding of the attitude learning outcome. That need may well derive from a long awaited and much appreciated understanding of the special possibilities offered by heritage learning.


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