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How museums have taken advantage of the boom in online tutorials

Introduction to Fashion Illustration from the V&A

If you have ever painted a happy little tree (or two, as everyone needs a friend) along with Bob Ross, then online tutorials may have become your favourite type of e-learning.

E-learning has grown to serve a broad spectrum of learning styles. It is accessible whether you are an auditory learner who prefers a traditional lecture or a social creature that loves a discussion group to cement your knowledge.

Platforms such as Skillshare and Udemy have focused their attention on practical classes – often hands-on guided tutorials that make excellent use of digital formats. Online tutorials allow coders to follow step-by-step on-screen, and art students can watch their tutor paint, from right in front of the easel.

By reaching out to those who enjoy learning by doing, these online tutorials have captured the imagination of an audience that is hungry for knowledge – Skillshare boasts over 12million members and 30,000 classes.

How to look

If you are looking online tutorial inspiration from the heritage and culture sector, a good starting point is ‘Intro to’ style classes.

There’s a good selection of classes which promise to teach how to look at artwork – but there’s no reason why this topic couldn’t extend to other kinds of exhibits, too.

With over 87,000 views at the time of writing, Phoenix Art Museum’s YouTube class is a short and sweet (six minute) beginners guide to viewing art.

In comparison, Artsy’s Skillshare course promises to introduce students to the basics of How to Talk About Art in just half an hour – accompanied by a class project that helps you to apply your new knowledge which adds a great depth of practical learning.

Inspiring engagement

Another approach for museums wishing to provide practical e-learning resources is to offer art or crafts courses inspired by exhibits.

MoMA’s compelling In The Studio YouTube series takes inspiration from some of their best-loved artists and guides the viewer through the process of making artwork in their style. Videos in this 27-video series include How to paint like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko or Willem de Kooning.

Participants could also take part in live Q&As with the MoMA’s instructor Corey D’Augustine, a link to these information-packed recordings is in the comment section for each video.

For those wanting a more formal experience, the V&A offer practical short courses through their Academy online resources.

These classes take place using Microsoft Teams, and, in the Introduction To Fashion Illustration course for example, include tutorials, videos,  and group discussion over a six-week course. This course is led by the internationally renowned artist and illustrator Erin Petson, accompanied by sessions from leading experts such as Cally Blackman, Senior Lecturer in Fashion History & Theory at Central Saint Martins, V&A Senior Curator Oriole Cullen and Stephanie Pesakoff, founder of the New York agency Illustration Division. An impressive syllabus – which makes the £240 price tag seem a bargain.

Study skills

Practical online learning is a great way to share technical skills – perhaps even sowing the seeds for a new generation of museum professionals.

The Natural History Museum provide everything that you need to start learning about wildlife, with resources including mobile apps, downloadable guides, video lessons, a Facebook group and an Identification and Advisory service. Check out the Night life: how to spot insects in the dark section to get a feel for this rich multimedia approach – this thorough guide gives you all the practical information you need to start night-trapping – a harmless way to study insects. It also provides a wealth of background information so that you will not just learn the how, but the what, why, where, and when – too.

Over on Coursera, MoMA takes a different approach by offering training for teachers to help them engage their students with museum exhibits. Art & Inquiry: Museum Teaching Strategies For Your Classroom is available for free, and uses a combination of theoretical and practical teaching through Coursera’s video platform, plus Google Hangouts.

How do you make online tutorials?

If you are considering making online tutorials, it’s reasonably straightforward to get started and begin trying out your ideas.

Aside from the basic equipment you probably have already – camera/phone, lighting, mic, you might find an overhead tripod helpful if you are showing a table-based process.

You need to consider where your tutorials will be available – from resources hosted directly on your website, to YouTube videos or hosting on an e-learning platform.

Helpfully, there are lots of online tutorials available about making, well, online tutorials – so there is lots of support available whichever direction you choose.

Each outlet offers its pros and cons:

Hosting on your organisation’s website gives you total control, but you don’t get the benefits of added marketing provided by external sites.

YouTube is excellent for hosting free to view content and can offer some income through advertising. These tutorials are great for building your brand and reaching new audiences.

E-learning platforms offer varying models, and all offer marketing support for your tutorials. For example, to provide tutorials on Skillshare you simply join us as a teacher – for free – and upload your content to the platform. There are some quality guidelines to follow – and all new classes are moderated to ensure that they follow this framework. You are then paid royalties once you’re getting 30 mins of views per month.

Sounds interesting? Take a look at the Help Center for Teachers for full details on adding a class or watch Learn to Teach an Amazing Skillshare Class for some pointers.

Udemy is similar as anyone can sign up as an instructor, for free, and upload their content to the site. Here, you’re paid revenue share for each student that enrols on your class – or you can offer your class for free.

Coursera, in contrast, requires a formal application to join their partner list – but again there is no joining cost to the organisation. You can, however, choose paid for services to support your content creation and marketing.

There are, of course, many e-learning platforms to choose from, depending on your specialism and audience objectives.

While museums are often seen as hands-off places, these practical classes offer a refreshing hands-on approach to reaching out and engaging audiences.

About the author – Rebecca Hardy Wombell

Rebecca Hardy Wombell is a freelance writer who works with a broad range of creative organisations, including artists, galleries, museums and design-led retailers.

Her writing aims to develop and delight audiences by putting her clients’ beautiful works to well-crafted words.

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