Informal learning

 26 March 2013

Informal learning staff create and lead learning for adults and families, through activities including workshops and tours.

You could create resources such as gallery trails or content for a museum audio tour. Image: Birmingham Museums Trust.
You could create resources such as gallery trails or content for a museum audio tour. Image: Birmingham Museums Trust.

Informal learning opportunities are offered by museums, art galleries and heritage sites to bring in new visitors, such as adults, families and young children. They can range from talks, to workshops for trying a new activity, to self-guided tours.

What do staff in informal learning roles do?

Learning staff think up ideas for, and lead, learning opportunities for adults and families. These are usually outside of school time.

They could include a children’s trail in a historic house or a workshop for adults to learn a new art technique. Or activities for the whole family, such as a self-guided tour in a museum.

Learning through artefacts

They use museum artefacts, paintings in an art gallery or the history behind a heritage site as a starting point to come up with ideas for linked learning activities.

For example, magic carpet storytelling sessions for children in an art gallery, where the magic carpet lands at a different painting each day.

Example job roles

Job titles include Learning and Participation Officer, Family Learning Programme Manager and Learning Manager: Audience Development.

Your duties and responsibilities could include: 

  • Creating resources, such as gallery trails or content for a museum audio tour. You would need to be able to interpret and communicate information for each age group.
  • Encouraging new visitors to the heritage site who wouldn’t normally come to a museum.
  • Working with a range of age groups from young children to the elderly.
  • Writing promotional literature, designing posters or creating content for websites. In a larger heritage organisation you may work alongside the marketing team to do this.

Smaller organisations rely on volunteers. Part of a learning role may be to find, train and manage a team of volunteers.

What is the job like?

In a smaller museum, gallery or heritage site a learning officer may provide both informal and formal learning opportunities. 

You could write promotional literature, design posters or create content for websites.

You could work in museums, art galleries or for a heritage organisation such a National Trust, English Heritage or Historic Scotland.

Some heritage sites will involve working outdoors, such as restored gardens, historic parklands and ancient monuments.

You would need good time-management skills and to be organised, as you may be coordinating a busy timetable of activities.

The job may involve administrative duties, such as booking guest speakers, arranging rooms and catering. You may also be in charge of a budget or have to search for funding. 

Working evenings, weekends and in school holidays may be part of the job.

How do I get into informal learning work?

The skills you will need include:

  • good communication skills, both written and spoken
  • experience of working with the public and being able to relate to people of different ages
  • 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
  • good administrative and organisational skills.

For all learning roles you need experience in the heritage sector gained from work experience or volunteering. Museums, galleries and heritage sites all need volunteers, look on their websites for details. The National Trust offer voluntary opportunities for all ages.

You may also need experience of working with young children, adults or families. You could volunteer with a youth or community group or on a play scheme.

What training and qualifications do I need?

There is no one set route into this job.

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.

Teaching qualifications may be required or preferred for some informal learning roles.

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. 

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