Educational Value of Museums

Acknowledgement -The NEMO (Network of European Museum Organisations) Annual Conference 5-7 November 2015


This article is about where and how military history can be displayed and be made accessible for educational values. (The next article will expose the reader on the various types and whereabouts of Military Museums). Museums are at times seen as a historic display if certain groups or individual beliefs. This is not true, Museums around the world is becoming a worthy norm of education.

Day after day, more than 30 000 Europeans museums offer an impressively diverse range of educational activities. Education is rightly considered as being one of the main functions of a museum. To speak of the educational value of a museum is to go beyond the activities offered to the public and step back and admire the display and preservation of history. There is a strong sureness internationally that various types of museums, when offering opportunities for formal and informal learning to people of all profiles and all backgrounds, can inspire, engage and help them understand the world in which they live.


A museum may well be a place for learning while remaining conservative and elitist, and excluding a large number of citizens. This is unfortunately still a reality for some institutions. The good news is, this perception is changing all over the world. Awareness is growing in museums that learning that is not limited to disseminating information about collections. Museum educations must also have a more inclusive objective to foster and to support intercultural dialogue, participations and empowerment. It seems obvious today that educational work is based on social values. The ultimate goal of museums (which may sound naïve or arrogant) is to help people to grow as individuals, become more critical of our society and more involved, learn to appreciate dialogue, feel empathy, be tolerant, become more educated and more civilised, to stand against ignorance and extremism.

There are modellers that study a specific area or events during military conflicts and illustrate them in a form of a model display - also known as dioramas.

The mission in the field of education is to highlight that museums are essential places of learning, open to interaction and involvement. Military lectures or legislators at higher level should understand and promote the role that museums play regarding education and social cohesion. It is crucial that other learning institutions recognize museums as their natural partners for collaboration. If we keep working together towards this goal in a coordinated way, we can achieve our vision of museums as places that allow us to better understand the complex world in which we live and to find out place within it.


Learning in museums has been portrayed with words like free-choice, informal, lifelong, non-formal or voluntary. These perspectives can be combined by describing museums as open learning environments a distinction to more closed learning environments like schools. Learning is not at all restricted to formal schooling, because people learn everywhere. Actually, most learning is done accidentally in non-formal situations. People learn by talking to each other or by watching television. People also learn in museums, but it is complicated to recognize and track what visitors learn and how. Museums, however allow a great variety of ways to study, discover, interact and enjoy.

The Avro Shackleton was for many years the “eyes in the sky” around the coast of Southern Africa. The true value of the aircraft was actually the unforgettable search and rescue missions (the grateful life’s that were saved) that were flown in the service of the 35 Squadron. A handful elderly individuals are still maintaining the aircraft with enthusiasm and dedication.

Open learning environments like libraries, the internet or museums can be used to search for information base on individual interest. But museums are also very special various hobbies and interest. For example in theatres, cinemas, concerts or sport events the audience stays in their seats and watches the same show. This is turned upside down in a museum, where the display stays still and the audience is moving.

Visitors explore the same exhibition but they do so in their own ways, wander almost randomly, see and learn different things. Today, museums are increasingly positioning themselves as places for learning experiences while searching for ways to respond to the changes and demand of today’s society.

Beginning with the overacting question, “which definition of learning do you see at the most accurate?”, and moving on to more detailed questions, the comparative report shows that there is variation in the perceptions of museum directors when it comes to what ‘learning’ actually means. The way we define learning affects the design and running of learning programmes. ”If learning is at the core of the museum’s mission, then developing and honouring employees learning competences should also be part of it.”

How can we build a bridge between museums, schools and even Military Training? A starting point could be to empower and motivate students who will become teachers to use the museum as a learning environment. What are the goals, methods and long-term implications of such a project? Over the course of three years, museums and teacher training colleges have collaborated on the development of educations offerings and academic internship programmes for student teachers at museums. The project’s focus has been on participation by incorporating student’s teachers as a key resource in the educational departments of museums.

Air Force Base Zwartkop is the oldest operational air base in the world. Amazing aircraft and dioramas portray the South African Military Airpower since the Air Force was established in 1920.

Museums have developed critical knowledge and insight into their own institutions as learning spaces. The evaluation and result show that incorporating student teachers as key players in the development of museum educational practices leads to improved knowledge exchange with everyone involved.

“Through cooperation with universities, museums have developed critical knowledge and insight into their own institutions as learning spaces.” Museums are essential parts of our cultural heritage but their significance is not always fully recognised in and amongst the Tertiary Institutions.

There are two issues within museums, one being the educational value of museums, the second being audience development. In order for a museum to stay relevant it must share and connect with relevant it must share and connect with reality and think ahead to the future.

The Control Tower at AFB Zwartkop is one of the oldest control towers in South Africa. At a time Air Traffic Controllers had the challenge to keep a safe air space as various aircraft from a number of helicopter and transport squadrons commenced with daily flying programmes.

“To fulfil their potential as relevant and trusted gathering places for their various communities, museums need to be highly connected. Museums should be included in national educational policies on a regular basis. Museums are exceptional and open to society at large. Definitely they can make our lives better.”

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