Formal learning

 26 March 2013

Engaging school groups with a heritage organisation through workshops, courses and events.

You could specialise in working with early years and primary pupils, secondary pupils or post-16. Image: Geffrye Museum.
You could specialise in working with early years and primary pupils, secondary pupils or post-16. Image: Geffrye Museum.

What do staff in formal learning roles do?

If you work in a formal learning role, you develop workshops, courses and events for school groups. This is to help them engage with a museum, gallery or heritage site and link with what they are learning at school.

You would aim to find innovative ways to use a museum’s collection as a learning resource to link with the National Curriculum.

Job titles include:

  • Learning Assistant
  • Education and Learning Officer
  • Learning Manager
  • Head of Learning.

Consider a learning role in heritage as an alternative to being a school teacher.

You could specialise in working with early years and primary pupils, secondary pupils or post-16 school, college or university students. Some learning staff specialise in a subject area, such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths).

Your job could involve:

  • Designing and leading talks, guided tours or small group workshops (or organise guest speakers to do this) for visiting school groups.
  • Going into schools to talk to students. This might involve history, art and craft, drama or science-based activities.
  • Creating resources to be used at a museum or gallery, such as worksheets or activity packs. Or developing web-based resources for lessons.
  • Identifying interesting objects from a museum’s collection or archives to form a ‘handling collection’. 
  • Marketing learning opportunities by writing promotional literature, designing web pages or updating social media sites.
  • Training teachers to use resources or themes from the museum as classroom activities.

What is the job like?

If you want to combine a love of history, art or science with teaching, you could consider a learning role in heritage as an alternative to being a school teacher.

You could work in museums, art galleries, heritage sites that are tourist attractions, historic houses, castles, cathedrals, heritage charities or for a heritage organisation such as the National Trust, English Heritage or Historic Scotland.

With experience it may be possible to work as a freelance educator offering services to a number of heritage or cultural sites.

In a smaller museum or heritage site your job may also include working with families or community groups on informal learning or outreach projects. 

How do I get into formal learning work?

You will need a combination of experience in museums, galleries or heritage sites and of teaching or youth and community work. 

Skills you need include:

  • Good communication skills, both written and spoken.
  • Interest in working with school children at primary, secondary or post-16 level.
  • Teaching experience, either as a qualified teacher or teaching assistant, or other classroom experience.
  • Creativity to develop resources and innovative learning opportunities.
  • Ability to work independently but also as part of a team.
  • Good IT skills. Web design skills are also useful.

For all learning roles you need experience in the heritage sector gained from work experience or volunteering.

Many museums, galleries and heritage sites need volunteers; look on their websites for details.

The National Trust offer voluntary opportunities for all ages.

There is no set career path. Many learning officers have worked in a range of museum and heritage roles and/or teaching roles before getting their first learning position

What training and qualifications do I need?

For most learning roles you will need a degree. A subject that links well with museums, art galleries or heritage sites would be useful, such as:

  • history
  • archaeology
  • fine art
  • art history
  • science.

 A degree in museums, heritage or cultural studies would also be relevant.

 Postgraduate qualifications are also available in museum, art gallery and heritage education.

An initial teacher training qualification, such as a teaching degree or PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education), may be required or preferred.

For most other jobs you would need classroom experience either as a teaching assistant or voluntary work. In some cases working with school-age children will be sufficient, such as working on a summer camp.

Apprenticeships in cultural and heritage venue operations may include opportunities to work as a museum assistant in a learning team. 

What can I earn?

You may be able to start as an assistant learning officer earning around £16,000 to £20,000. Learning officers earn around £22,000 to £25,000, rising to £26,000 to £35,000 for management and head of learning positions.  

Many jobs are short-term contracts.

Freelance educators are paid a day rate


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