The Natural History Museum Annual Review 2003 | 2004
Introduction The Director's Review Our Year World Class Science
Opening Up the Collection Darwin Centre Innovation 3 Million+ Visitors A Place for Learning
Working for Us Looking Ahead Our Supporters Financial Review
Corporate Governance Previous Years' Reports
(Annual Report Home - graphics and PDF)
A Place for Learning
Learning is at the heart of what we do. The new strategy that we developed during the year will help us to refocus our approach and become a global leader in museum learning.
Learning for All Focusing on the Learner    

Learning for all. Our Learning team had another successful year, encouraging people of all ages to discover, enjoy and reflect on the natural world.

We gave support to the many children who visited our South Kensington and Tring sites in school groups, often as part of science and geography courses. Investigate, our flagship learning space where Explainers encourage scientific enquiry through contact with real specimens, welcomed over 80,000 school and family visitors. We offered professional development opportunities for teachers, including gene technology training days that attracted more than 100 participants. We delivered an extensive programme of events and courses for adults and families, and developed new Explorer backpacks for under 7s, to make family visits to the galleries a more rewarding learning experience. E-learning resources such as Walking with Woodlice and Exploring Biodiversity continued to attract wide interest from web users. Our adult and family education service also had a successful year. We are currently reviewing this service in order to build on our strengths and broaden audiences.

Every year our scientists make an important contribution to learning, inspiring children, young people and adults to explore the science of the natural world. As well as giving the daily Darwin Centre Live presentations, they work with local communities around the world to increase understanding of biodiversity and public health issues.

The Museum is a major provider of postgraduate education in taxonomy and systematics. At MSc level, 34 students completed our Advanced Methods in Taxonomy and Biodiversity course, and a further four students were enrolled on our highly-regarded MRes in Biosystematics. Both these courses are the result of a collaboration between the Museum and Imperial College London. We have a large, international community of postgraduate students studying with us - during the year we supervised 156 PhD students in collaboration with our university partners.

Focusing on the learner. A new Head of Learning, Honor Gay, joined us during the year. A strategy to release the Museum's full potential as a learning organisation was developed, following extensive internal and external consultation. This will provide the framework for a step change in learning activity, significantly broadening our audience, increasing the number of school children benefiting from our learning resources and providing more enriching learning experiences.

The Museum has adopted the Campaign for Learning's broad definition of learning:

'Learning is a process of active engagement with experience. It is what people do when they want to make sense of the world. It may involve an increase in skills, knowledge or understanding, a deepening of values or the capacity to reflect. Effective learning will lead to change, development and a desire to learn more.'

Our strategy is Museum-wide in conception, and puts learning at the heart of the organisation, with staff and volunteers all playing their part in making the Museum a stimulating place for learning. Key strategic objectives include encouraging progression in science learning, broadening access to the Museum's learning resources, empowering people to understand and act on the implications of science for their daily lives, and inspiring a love of learning.

New, audience-focused approaches are being developed to engage a wider and more varied range of learners, including people who have not traditionally been museum learners, such as younger adults and people from black and ethnic minority communities. We are also extending our geographical reach across the UK by linking up with regional museums to open up the Darwin Centre and Investigate experiences to school children outside London. A robust programme of evaluation is also being implemented so that we can assess the effectiveness of our learning programmes.

To deliver on the new strategy and meet government priorities, additional staff have been recruited and the Learning Department has been restructured into teams to serve lifelong learners, formal learners, and new audiences.

Matthew Kaplan - e-Learning Programme Developer.
Matthew Kaplan is a science communicator and a member of the Museum's Learning Department:

'A new generation has grown up. Young people today are confident with electronic media - they played computer games when they were kids and they respond well to interactive engagement, so e-learning is a great way to get them interested in the natural world. If we can make the learning experience an enjoyable one for them, they are more likely to absorb knowledge and will want to come back for more.'

'We have lots of exciting projects in development at the moment. My current favourite is an activity about volcanoes that we are developing for the website and for Investigate, our hands-on science centre. It allows users to control the water vapour and silica levels in a developing volcano and see what happens when it erupts. The goal is to get people to think about what causes volcanoes to erupt the way they do and realise how many different types of volcano there are.'

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