*This article was published in 2010. Since then, social media platforms have changed and evolved, but the underlying concepts of this article may still provide thought fuel regarding new platforms.
Social Media and online engagement helps museums to reach more people more effectively by communicating content in ways that resonate with different types of learners. In this way, social media can be seen not only as a marketing tool, but a method of engagement for community building– and above all, a tool for learning.
Many have likely heard of the three most widely acknowledged types of learners: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. In Dr. Bruce D. Friedman’s book, How to Teach Effectively, he identifies a fourth type of learner: the reader-writer. I have included it in the chart above because I believe that the onset of the increasing popularity of online tools has given this kind of learner a bit more spotlight in recent years. According to psychologists, most people identify strongly with one of the particular learning profiles mentioned above. Though it’s thought that folks have one main learning style, it’s more likely that an individual learns through a combination of these methods, with one or two standing out has the most prominent.
Museums are heaven for kinesthetic learners, but what about other kinds of learners? An interactive museum is an ideal informal learning environment for a kinesthetic learner who retains information and gains understanding through hands-on activities. It would be crazy to think that museums aren’t, in many ways, heaven for certain kinds of visual and auditory learners as well. But social media and the unspoken call-to-action for involvement that comes with increased social connectivity allows folks to learn from the museum- even when they are no longer at the museum.
- Visual Learners– These individuals learn best from pictures, videos, diagrams, and visualization. YouTube and Flickr serve as powerful ways to reach and engage these learners from home. Facebook is a secondary tool because it allows fans to be connected to a museum’s YouTube and Flickr accounts. In other words, it allows links to these sites to come from one aggregated place– assuming your museum posts statuses that connect to other social media accounts. Moreover, Facebook allows visual learners to observe a sort-of timeline of organizational happenings. This way of showing a museum’s news is helpful to a visual learner. Museums can reach this audience via social media by updating Flickr and YouTube accounts with content related to the museum or the area it covers.
- Auditory Learners- These natural listeners would rather have something explained to them than to read it. Want to get their attention? A podcast should work. YouTube can also serve as a powerful platform for engaging auditory learners, and it’s a tool with twice the power when used with folks who are a part visual and part auditory learner. Museums can reach this audience via social media by creating a podcast or explaining inner-workings of the museum or topics of interest on YouTube.
- Read/Write Learners- These learners like to see things in writing, and many often need to get their thoughts down on paper (or on a computer screen) in order to take reflection to the next level. It seems as though social media is ideal for these learners, as reading and writing are strongly connected to the Internet, and it the primary method of communicating via social networks. It makes sense that these learners would like social media sites like Facebook and Twitter which allow them to read-up on happenings while also providing the opportunity to contribute. I’d guess that most bloggers and blog commentors are read/write learners. Museums can reach this audience via social media by hosting active Facebook and Twitter accounts and maintaining a blog which allows for site visitor contributions.
In sum: while museums are beneficial for kinesthetic learners and other types of learners as well, social media provides an opportunity for museums to engage these learners in a new way. When responsibility for social media is shared among departments within a museum (or content is created in collaboration), the opportunities for spreading the museum’s mission increases. As a side thought, I wonder if for folks there is both a preferred way to learn in general and a preferred way to learn online. For instance, I think even kinesthetic learners have another preference for learning online. Learning from resources on the Internet is commonplace though we frequently have to be wary of our sources. There’s an opportunity for museums to help “own” a chunk of online learning– and social media may be just the key.