An image of a building sitting on a green lawn under a blue sky behind a purple banner that reads “AASLH Online Course Museum and Education Outreach” with a white icon that reads “Small Museum Pro!”

Online Course: Museum Education and Outreach

Museum and Education Outreach

An AASLH Small Museum Pro! Online Course

Course Description

At their heart, regardless of type or size, museums are engaging, dynamic places of education. This AASLH online course, Museum Education and Outreach, is about how we can facilitate visitors’ meaningful and memorable experiences in the informal environments of museums.

This course requires regular check-ins, sharing and commenting on peer work, and participation in scheduled live chats. Participants will help shape the flow of the course in addition to providing resources and insights on each other’s work. Assignments are made weekly to allow for regular feedback and dialogue. While work can be done at your own pace, meeting deadlines is encouraged to maximize the experience. Throughout the course you will develop a toolkit of strategies, policies, and documents ready for immediate implementation.

Participant Outcomes

At the end of this course you will be able to:

  • describe the characteristics and learning needs of various museum audiences;
  • summarize what we know about learning in museums;
  • assess the strengths and weaknesses of interpretive techniques and program approaches;
  • utilize a system for planning, operating, and evaluating museum educational programs;
  • access resources to assist you in future development of effective learning experiences

Sample Curriculum

  • Week 1: Defining the Museum / Museums and Memory
  • Week 2: Interpretation Strengths, Weaknesses, and Best Practices
  • Week 3: Audiences and Identifying Your Key Ones
  • Week 4: Education Program Planning, Management, and Evaluation
  • Week 5: Organizing of Museum Education and Outreach
  • Week 6: Community Partners and Funding
  • Week 7: Leading Staff and Volunteers
  • Week 8: Action Plan for Future Programming at your Museum

Texts Used


Anna Johnson, Kimberly A. Huber, Nancy Cutler, Melissa Bingmann and Tim Grove. The Museum Educator’s Manual: Educators Share Successful Techniques (2nd ed). The text is NOT INCLUDED with your registration. You must order the book separately from the book seller of your choice.


FORMAT: Online, weekly-paced course

LENGTH: 8 weeks

PARTICIPATION STYLE: Bi-weekly (every-other-week) real-time online chats; weekly assignments; final course assignment

MATERIALS: One required text (see below)

CREDIT: Successful completion of this course will earn one credit toward the Small Museum Pro! certificate from AASLH.


COURSE DATES: March 25 - May 17, 2019

COST: $195 AASLH Members / $295 Nonmembers

OPEN REGISTRATION: February 15 - March 20, 2019; 30 Participant limit




Who Should Take This Course

This course is a beginning level course designed for professional staff and volunteers of historical organizations and libraries with historical collections who have little to no experience with developing education programs and goals for museums. Successful participants should be ready to look past traditional methods and challenge themselves to work around site-specific hurdles.


Tanya Brock is one who tends to take leaps and jumps rather than the straight path. Her career has spanned museum education, visitor services, exhibit planning, historical research, educational program consultant, and community partner liaison. Whether teaching food preservation classes or designing and running the nation’s first functioning historical brewery or running a brewpub co-op, her passion has always been centered on food—its power to unite and act as a storyteller for communities.

Her education is a patchwork of cultural anthropology, food preservation, heritage interpretation, and museum administration. This background has built a foundation of various perspectives from which she draws from when designing programs. Over a 20-year period she has worked with audiences of all sizes, ages, and backgrounds yet believes at the end of the day, it is the guest who drives the conversation and the experience.

4 Ways Historic House Museums Can Create More Meaningful Visitor Experiences

The Ropes Mansion

Every year, AASLH receives over 100 nominations for our Leadership in History Awards, which recognize organizations doing "Good History." Our Awards committee spends a week poring over the details of these program and exhibits, reading about what made them stand out. At the end, we have a list of exceptional projects and a lot of important takeaways for other history organizations to apply at their own sites.

Want to create more meaningful experiences at your historic house museum? Here are four takeaways from award-winning sites on how to draw in new and existing audiences:

1. Tell Specific Stories

When it comes to engaging audiences and telling compelling stories, specifics are key. Although it may seem somewhat counterintuitive, the more specific details a story has, the more people connect with it. For historic houses and museums, it is important to engage visitors with the real people that lived, worked, and played in the space. Access to family collections and/or archives, can be a rich source of details for telling captivating stories of people’s lives.

The Ropes Museum leveraged their extensive family collection to tell the real stories of the family who inhabited the house. By turning to the source material, they were able to bring the family artifacts to life by situating the objects within the rich lives of complex, dynamic people. Doing this increased visitors’ engagement and created a sense of connection between their own lives and that of the Ropes family.


A Death in the Family at the W. H. Stark House

2. Have a Strong Hook

In addition to compelling details, great stories have strong hooks which draw you in and make you want to learn more.  All of the award winners in this category centered their exhibits on topics with some type of conflict. Conflict creates intrigue by prompting people to ask questions and to want to know more.

The W.H. Stark House used death and mourning rituals in their exhibit A Death in the Family to help visitors connect with the Stark family. The exhibit told the stories of the death of W.H. and Miriam Stark’s daughter in 1880 and their own death in 1936. The museum found that the discussion of mourning rituals fostered healthy multi-generational dialogue around death and mourning.


Interpreters at the Ebenezer-Maxwell Mansion

3. Remember That Hands-On Experiences Make a Difference

Educational psychology has repeatedly shown people learn best when they can engage multiple senses. As part of their revitalization efforts, many of the award winners created ways in which visitors could engage their senses of touch by creating hands-on components within their exhibits.

The Strong-Howard House took this concept a step further and replaced all of their furniture with replicas. Visitors are encouraged to touch the beds, sit on the chairs, and open the desks. This emphasis on a hands-on experience has restructured the way visitors move through the space and creates an environment where people are encouraged to construct knowledge for themselves by driving their own experience.

The Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion took another approach to hands-on interactions with their Upstairs, Downstairs tour. At the end of the tour, visitors are served light “comestibles,” which includes a 19th century treat called a jumble cookie. By giving visitors something they can touch and taste the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion is creating a multidimensional learning experience for visitors.


Interpreters at the Strong-Howard House

4. Prioritize Community Engagement

Historic museums and houses are as deeply embedded in their community context today as in the past. Thinking broadly about community partnerships and engagement can open the door for new and dynamic ways of increasing community participation in the museum or house, and can also provide the museum or house with resources it would not have otherwise had access to.

When an extensive family archive became available, Cliveden collaborated with a number of community partners, both historical and non-historical, to help work through the archives and determine what stories to highlight. By engaging the community and understanding the questions they had, Cliveden was able to reflect the diversity of their present community in their exhibits and open themselves up to a much wider audience.



To learn more about the specific projects from the award winners, visit:

“Upstairs, Downstairs Tour"—Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion (Horsham, PA)

“Emancipating Cliveden” –Cliveden (Philadelphia, PA)

“Strong-Howard House Reinterpretation Project” –Windsor Historical House (Windsor, CT)

“Re-envisioning the Ropes Mansion” –Peabody Essex Museum (Salem, MA)

“A Death in the Family” –Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation (Orange, TX)

Engaging New Museum Audiences with Pokémon Go

As a follow-up to Alexandra Rasic’s blog last week, "Is There a Place for Pokémon Go in History Museums," I was encouraged to write about the ways in which I have employed Pokémon Go at the Aurora Regional Fire Museum. When I first heard about the game I was skeptical, however as the game built momentum during the week I knew that we had to be involved. While there have been some negative stories around Pokémon Go and museums, the advent of the game provides an opportunity for our aging institutions to attract a new generation of visitors and provides the ability to teach about museums.

A Rattata in the Aurora Regional Fire Museum
A Rattata in the Aurora Regional Fire Museum

The use of Pokémon Go at the Aurora Regional Fire Museum began towards the end of last week when I realized that wherever I went, children, teens, and adults were playing. I asked my staff and volunteers to begin their day by downloading Pokémon Go and then searching the museum for Pokémon. We soon saw that the statue in front of our museum and the fire station next to the museum were gyms and the building across the street was a Pokéstop.  Given this, one of our volunteers purchased some lures to bring Pokémon into our building. We allowed visitors into the museum to catch Pokémon on the condition that they posted on social media. The response to this was incredible, several of our followers commented how sad they were that they missed out.

fire3Once a month, Aurora Downtown organizes an event called First Fridays. First Fridays encourages businesses and cultural institutions to stay open into the evening, offering free events to the public. For the next event on Friday, August 5th, the Aurora Regional Fire Museum decided we would host a “Pokémon Take Over the Fire Museum” night. We are going to purchase lures to bring in Pokémon, hide miniature Pokémon figures throughout the museum and galleries, and encourage visitors to dress-up as their favorite Pokémon. We will be raffling off a variety of prizes to visitors who find Pokémon in the museum, dress-up, and post their finds on our social media.

Although involving our staff and developing events around Pokémon Go can be seen as straying away from our educational mission, it is a risk that needs to be taken to interest a younger generation in our museums and cultural institutions. One visitor to our museum this week noted this place is really cool and that they would need to come back to visit the museum sometime. What successes have you had with Pokémon Go? Has it helped bring in new, younger audiences?