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Learning Strategy 2016–2020

Igniting Curiosity in Science

  • Science Museum Group Learning will deliver world-class informal science learning, building on our success to offer greater access across all platforms and audiences.
  • Through our Enterprising Science research programme, we will integrate the principles of Science Capital to improve our practice.
  • A major restructuring of our digital initiatives will extend the riches of the Science Museum Group beyond our walls into classrooms and homes.
  • We will integrate shared practices and expertise throughout the Science Museum Group, while capitalising on the rich diversity of the different museums’ approaches and audiences.
  • By working with national and international partners we will amplify our work and build the Science Museum Group’s reputation.
  • We will focus our messaging to stakeholders, including government, funders, and industry so that the Science Museum Group is recognised as essential to achieving their respective goals.
  • By operating more effectively and entrepreneurially, we will increase financial efficiency and income generation to sustain the breadth of learning activity on offer.

1.1 Background

There is much to be very proud of in the Science Museum Group’s outstanding learning offer and it is timely to build upon our strengths and take the opportunity to focus and deepen our impact and effectiveness.

Policy makers, industrial leaders, and educators agree that future generations must be informed, enthusiastic and skilled in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) for the UK to retain its role as a global leader. Our museums have a distinctive and critical role in addressing this priority as a national and global leader in STEM education. Research has confirmed that STEM experiences out of school have a deep and sustained effect on young people, families and adults, shaping their interests and career choices. The Science Museum Group’s impact as the most visited set of museums by school groups, combined with strengths in teacher professional development and millions of public visitors, places it in a unique position within the UK’s STEM learning ecosystem.

This organisation has is a long and illustrious history of science engagement. The Director of the Science Museum in 1922, Sir Henry Lyons, argued that, in a technical museum, the needs of ‘the ordinary visitor’ should be placed ahead of those of specialists, and opened the world’s first children’s gallery in 1931. Fast-forward to the present day and the Science Museum Group has an international reputation for the quality of its learning offer and has recently delivered two world-class interactive galleries (Wonderlab London and Bradford). It has achieved this through constant renewal and innovation and this strategy represents the latest leg of that journey.

1.2 Current composition

The Learning team currently spans the Science Museum, Museum of Science & Industry, National Railway Museum and National Science and Media Museum. We provide overarching strategic direction to the learning offer, ensuring a common approach and philosophy across these museums. Operational decisions are on the whole taken within each museum in collaboration with the respective museum directors.

We foster proactive sharing of expertise and, where applicable, content is developed jointly and channels such as digital are explicitly Group-wide. At each site, there is a different composition of responsibilities, which reflects the local circumstances and priorities in the museums. In addition, substantially different visitor numbers and facilities across the sites shape delivery models and options.

The Science Museum Group plays a central and irreplaceable role in deepening and expanding science literacy in the UK. The breadth of resources, the diversity of audiences and communities we serve and the wide range of expertise embedded in our learning, collections, and exhibitions teams are a world class resource for public engagement in STEM.

Our organising principle of enhancing Science Capital offers a vision of enriching people’s lives as well as enhancing their contributions to society and is a core priority for the overarching Science Museum Group 2017-2030 Strategy. Located at the intersection of formal and informal learning, we have a direct impact on millions of families, teachers and members of the visiting public, young and old. By devoting resources to researching and extending this impact, the Science Museum Group will be a transformative engine for improving lives across the UK and beyond.

Science Museum Group Learning will continue to deliver sector-leading informal science learning, building on our success to offer greater access across all platforms and audiences. Through our Enterprising Science research programme, we will integrate the principles of Science Capital to improve our practice. A major restructuring of our digital initiatives will extend the riches of the Science Museum Group beyond our walls into classrooms and homes. We will integrate shared practices and expertise throughout the Science Museum Group, while capitalising on the rich diversity of the different museums’ approaches and audiences.

By working with national and international partners we will amplify our work and build the Science Museum Group’s reputation. We will focus our messaging to stakeholders, including government, funders, and industry so that Science Museum Group is recognised as essential to achieving their respective goals. By operating more effectively and entrepreneurially, we will increase financial efficiency and income generation to sustain the breadth of learning activity on offer.

The new vision and strategic objectives, which are presented here, are supported by a set of learning principles and business planning principles that will enable the change necessary to achieve this.

About Science Capital: Science Capital is a ground-breaking explanation of how and why young people do or do not engage with science, which in simple terms is more likely if you have high Science Capital. Research has shown that only 5% of students have high Science Capital. Science Capital is formed by what you know, how you think, what you do and who you know (see animation). By understanding what influences this and by being able to measure it, it is possible to focus on raising Science Capital. The Science Capital concept is already gaining traction in the UK and internationally.

Through direct involvement in the development process with Kings College and BP, the Science Museum is establishing itself as a centre of expertise in translating this research into practice, focusing on how science centres and other informal science learning environments can best utilise their collections, booked visits and outreach to build levels of science capital in all young people.

2.1 Our Vision:

To enrich the lives of a large and diverse audience by igniting their curiosity in Science

2.2 Learning Principles:

  1. We ignite curiosity in science. We do not teach or lecture our audiences about science. We know that this would be counterproductive because our audiences do not see formal science education as our role. Instead we need to inform and inspire.
  2. We use the principles of Science Capital to shape our learning programmes, live events and inform our interpretation for exhibitions.
  3. We play our part in an ecosystem of STEM learning where we support and encourage our audiences to extend their learning within and without our museums.
  4. We put audiences at the heart of everything we do (informed by audience research) and our aspiration is to provide people with a learning experience they would not get anywhere else.

2.3 Strategic Objectives:

  1. Deepen the impact of learning across the Science Museum Group by using the latest research to develop sector-leading good practice.
  2. Establish the Science Museum Group as a critical provider of STEM enrichment in the national and international arena.
    Develop authoritative, attractive, and useful materials that encourage schools to teach in more creative ways and invite them to use our museums as a resource.
  3. Amplify the reach and impact of learning by harnessing the power of the transformative gallery projects underway at each of our museums.
  4. Capitalise on the strengths of our museums – real objects, phenomena and people – to generate the learning offer for our family, adult and schools audiences.
  5. Embed Group working, sharing expertise and resource proactively.
  6. Increase net income through new business models, entrepreneurialism and improved financial information and planning.

2.4 Business Planning Principles

  1. All programmes and projects will be planned holistically as a group using a common planning framework and funded in a sustainable manner to operate efficiently, sharing support and expertise across our museums.
  2. New activity should always be developed so that it can be leveraged across different audiences and different sites. Priority will be given to activity where maximum reach and impact can be delivered.
  3. Facilitated learning activity (not including staffing of interactive galleries and historic machine demonstrations) is increasingly delivered on a cost neutral basis (this will be implemented in line with the priorities and audiences at each museum).

  1. Use the principle of Science Capital to describe and shape our learning content and programmes across all our sites and work with the wider museums to understand how different activity contributes towards building Science Capital. Position the Science Museum Group as sector and international experts on the application of Science Capital.
  2. Develop world-leading digital learning resources that are a go-to destination for educators, students and families, working in close collaboration with the Digital team.
  3. Ensure the ongoing success of the new Trans-Pennine STEM ambassador hub, aiming to have 2,600 active STEM ambassadors by March 2018.
  4. Refocus the Outreach team to work on encouraging visits to our museums by underrepresented groups, supported by a sustainable model of charging and delivery.
  5. Underpinned by our learning principles and philosophy, implement a Learning Resources Strategy to streamline and quality assure learning resource delivery for all of our museums, sharing expertise to achieve a holistic approach to content development.
  6. The National Science and Media Museum to become a centre of excellence for engaging young people and families from disadvantaged backgrounds with STEM.
  7. Create a Science Museum Group Academy of Science Engagement.
  8. Ensure the success of the Science Museum Group’s new interactive galleries (Wonderlabs) for paying and non paying visitors and school groups, meeting visitor number targets at each site.
  9. Review provision and undertake audience research for Under 7’s to inform gallery developments across all sites.
  10. Introduce segmentation and qualitative measures for booked education groups (include review of previous segmentation).
  11. Review the financial operations of Learning across the Science Museum Group to gain a better understanding of cost per activity and move applicable activity to being cost neutral. Redesign or halt activity that makes inefficient use of resources (for example where cost per user is significantly higher than comparable activity). Introduce agreed elements of charging for booked educational groups at all sites.
  12. Where applicable, work with volunteers to enhance and bolster our learning programmes.
  13. Develop a bespoke Science Museum Group approach to Maker Spaces and implement across museum sites as applicable.
  14. Review education group user journeys (including pre and post visit) to ensure appropriate levels of support and encouragement are provided at the different touch points to enhance the experience of using our museums as a learning resource.
  15. Increase sustainable programming for adults at non-peak times, aligned with audience priorities at each site, using available platforms and channels to position the museum(s) as a key destination for this audience. This will be different from, but compliment our successful Lates.

The Science Museum Group is rightly celebrated for its excellence in learning delivery and practice, and this strategy is designed to build on this immense strength. It is also addressing areas that haven’t received sufficient recent focus, such as digital resources and the potential advantages of operating more coherently as a group of museums.

Alongside this is very important work to ensure the Learning team is in a strong position to respond to continued financial pressures.

However, the overriding ambition of this new strategy is to raise the quality and breadth of our learning offer to new heights, cementing our position as a world leader in informal science learning and reinforcing our strategic importance to the UK’s STEM agenda.