Informal (and Unpaid) Educators: How Museum Volunteer Educators Teach and Learn

By Sandra Martell.

Published by The Learner Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Volunteers are individuals who “give their time freely and for the benefit of others” (Wilson, Musick, 1997, p. 695,) while engaging in activities that are productive, involve collective action, and are ethical (Wilson, Musick, 1997). Because of a lack of standardization of training and a dearth of research, little is known about museum education volunteers and how they learn and teach, including how they attempt to gauge the success of their teaching and how visitors learn during their programs.

This paper presents findings about how Milwaukee’s nonprofit museum volunteer educators learn and teach. Findings are based on a survey about volunteers' professional and educational backgrounds and experiences as well as their perceptions about teaching and learning in museums. The survey addresses four questions: First, what are the professional and educational backgrounds of nonprofit museum volunteers in Milwaukee? Second, what kinds of training or professional development do volunteers encounter once they have begun working in the nonprofit sector? Third, how do volunteers characterize their work with visitors and their goals and objectives for visitor learning? Finally, are there relationships between volunteers’ backgrounds and experiences and the ways they understand teaching and learning in museums? The study provides a comprehensive account of Milwaukee’s museum volunteer educator identity as a community of both teachers and learners.

Keywords: Informal Learning, Museum Education, Volunteer, Cognition

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 13, Issue 11, pp.149-164. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.293MB).

Dr. Sandra Martell

Assistant Professor, Educational Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA

Sandra T. Martell, who teaches courses in learning and development, conducts research on learning in different educational settings, such as school classrooms and museum galleries. Her work focuses on linkages between formal and informal learning. Dr. Martell taught in museums for over ten years, including at The Studio Museum in Harlem, El Museo del Barrio, The Jersey City Museum, and The Seattle Art Museum, among others. She received her B.A. and B.F.A from Cornell University, M.A. in museum professions from Seton Hall University, and Ph.D. in educational psychology (with a concentration in cognitive studies in education) from the University of Washington.

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