Digital Literacy and Museums

This year I returned to a familiar topic faced by numerous museums and their audiences – digital engagement and literacy. What’s new? A lot as I found out at a recent research project One by One and related event organised by Culture24 and the University of Leicester.

I am a former attendee of a 5 day training course Developing Digital Content organised by Culture24 and the British Council in partnership with Brighton Museums in 2016. The course provided me with much-needed insight and know-how when addressing how to engage with audiences when developing content. As a member of the Irish Council for National Cultural Institutions, I organised a one-day training session for my peers in Ireland with Culture24 in November 2017.

What is One by One?

One by One is a national collaborative research project which aims to help UK museums of any size better define, improve, measure and embed the digital literacy of their staff and volunteers – in all roles and at all levels. The 30 month long project is divided into the following phases:

– Phase one included mapping the museum digital skills eco-system (the report is available to read here First phase report

– Phase two aims to understand the digital literacy needs of museum professionals

– Phase three will involve prototyping activities at museum

– Phase 4 involves testing activities in the partner museums

-Phase 5, the final phase of this research project, will provide a broader framework and share across the sector in the UK

Literacy Lab, Brighton Museums, June 2018

I participated in a Literacy Lab workshop in Brighton as part of Phase two. The next Labs will take place in Edinburgh and Cardiff. During the session, a number of UK-based participants from the museum sector looked at various models of digital literacy and discussed what digital literacies museum people need.

The One by One team provided a wide range of examples and models developed primarily in the third sector and by research bodies. Participants were divided into groups according to hypothetical museum professional roles: Curator, Director, Marketing and Interpretation and Learning.

We were also divided in to subgroups and asked how these models impact on three different types of museums: local authority run museums, small independent museums with a lot of volunteers and large museums with teams and departments.


Here are my key reflections from these exercises:

  • The museum sector lacks digital confidence.
  • A lot of museums’ digital work and development is confined within digital departments.
  • Museums tend to focus on hardware and software rather than the needs of their audiences.
  • There is currently a scramble for museums to get images online but they are not necessarily asking themselves why this is valuable.
  • Digital content developed by museums should reflect their core mission. This is often overlooked when creating digital content for audiences.
  • Museums need to take the time to ask why are we doing this and what is it for?

Other key questions included:

  • Why use these frameworks?
  • Are the frameworks useful?
  • What context should they be used in? (A good understanding of the context is important.)

Why use frameworks?


Image: Towards a national digital skills framework for Irish higher education

I used one of the frameworks in an experiment in my own organisation as a response to the training provided by Culture24 last November. This particular framework for digital literacy skills was very useful and helped ‘sell’ my proposal to my colleagues. It provided me with a concrete example of how we can invite members of our culturally diverse local communities to share their stories of the museum through social media. While the project is still in its early days, digital literacy has proven vital for both museum professionals and our audiences when developing digital content.

Where can I find examples of digital literacy models?

There are multiple models available online. These are just some of many shared at the workshop that I found interesting:

– Futurelab – the components of digital literacy

– 8 elements of digital literacy

– All aboard Irish Higher Education Authority

What’s next?

This is a very timely and much-needed research initiative. Keep an eye out on the One by One website for further updates.

2 thoughts on “Digital Literacy and Museums

  1. Hi Jenny,
    thank you for your article and your report on what is happening out there on the digital education field. I am myself a museum educator, tutor and have been program manager in Austria for the last 3 years. I came across the same questions all the time, not quite capable to answer them.
    This one is probably the most important one (to me): Museums need to take the time to ask why are we doing this and what is it for?
    Followed by, if we are still out there to fulfill marketing dreams or rather all age learners? Are we trying to push our museum to be one of the best in the world and showing this through social media? Or are we actually investing into research about digital education and how to reach out to people and engage them with topics, stories and eventually learn from their knowledge?
    Currently studying digital education at University of Edinburgh, I am very interested in learning more about your findings and your way to connect education, museum and the digital with each other…
    Best, Lucia


    • Many thanks Lucia – great to hear from you and thanks for the feedback. The project team has a very good report on their website which could help with some of the things you have raised. I think, on my part, within the Irish museum sector, digital engagement is seen purely from a marketing point of view to promote the institution. Digital engagement with audiences has not really taken off collectively in Ireland. I agree with the latter part of your message i.e. Or are we actually investing into research about digital education and how to reach out to people and engage them with topics, stories and eventually learn from their knowledge? That’s what I would like to see happen in the Irish museum sector.
      The project in the UK is addressing this very theme as well. There is a lot to uncover, investigate and research. It sounds like you are in the right place, right course and hope the studies go well. I believe the project will hold a session/lab in Scotland, if not already.
      All the best

      Liked by 1 person

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