How do you create a Learning Programme from scratch?
This is something I get asked a lot in my role as Learning Programme Manager at the Charterhouse.
We opened our wonderful heritage site to the public in January 2017 and I can tell you there is much that goes into the making of a museum. It’s, however, slightly rarer to hear about the making of a learning programme. That’s why, despite considerable butterflies, I signed up for MuseumsShowoff in September – a open mic night for museum workers to show and tell extremely loudly and quickly.
I used my nine showoff minutes to pass on 5 tips for starting a learning programme but they can be applied to any new project. I’ve distilled the 5 tips I shared into 3 essentials:
TIP 1: Embrace “NO”
This first tip is so important. It might seem anathema to say “no” when we often hear so much about saying “yes”. However, I am a learning department of one working to achieve a set of targets in a defined time (you can maybe see where I’m going here) meaning it’s necessary to focus time and attention where needed. I started in post 11 months before we opened to the public and I said “yes” and committed myself to more than I could deliver in the belief that every yes could be a useful connection/lead/contact. The outcome was that I often had to re-evaluate and maybe switch it to a “no” or a “not at this time” or “not in this form”. I quickly came to realise that the start of a programme is not the same as the middle of an established programme, and whilst I might see great growth opportunities this was not the current purpose of my role. I think of my role now as establishing the roots and maybe seeing a few buds grow, or maybe not.
TIP 2. Find your allies
Find your allies, be open and ask them ALL THE THINGS! Ask for help widely. If you go to a meeting and see someone who seems to have similar perspective as you, email them/tweet them/dm them – get them on board. The true key to this tip is being honest. I’ve definitely found a cohort of colleagues with whom I can say “one of our October events didn’t sell well, how did yours go?” and trust that they will be honest, perhaps provide ideas or indeed, as has been the case, offer an opportunity to work together. I’m in several networking groups – such as Museum Detox, the City Family Arts Network and the Secondary Learning Network (physical) and as well online communities such as @MusuemHour as the support is invaluable. I am also not part of networks. Again, feel free to say “no” if an assumed network does not fulfil your needs.
TIP 3. Learn to view success as ANYTHING that happens
This last tip is key. If you build it, they might not come…they may come eventually…they may come and have a great time. You will likely, on more than one occasion, find yourself sitting in a room by yourself on a family activity day wondering why no-one wants to make stop-motion animation films, carve pumpkins or make illuminated letters (all real examples!) It may be the date, the weather, a competing event or another unforeseen reason. It’s useful to remember that no-one really knows if there is an audience at your venue for these activities and it’s your job to spend year one – at the very least – finding out. An extremely helpful approach is to think of year one as a test and activities as experiments. Enjoy the discoveries and if five people turn up, rejoice, as they would not have been there without wonderful YOU.
All new programmes take time to build and in 2, 5, 10 years your hard work now will ensure that your programme continues to flourish.