Museums, MOOCs and MoMA: the future of digital education realised?

When pressed on what the main issues confronting educators in the 21st century are, Deborah Howes is unequivocal in her response. “The biggest challenge in looking ahead is letting go of familiar habits preventing you from reaching other audiences that expect and need to learn in different ways.”

Ms Howes, the Director of Digital Learning at New York’s iconic Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), is well placed to reflect on the future of education, particularly as it increasingly evolves – and involves – online.

MoMA’s digital education offerings include seven fee-based courses (offered via their website) and, more recently, a free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) offered via Coursera.

The move to the latter platform in the middle of this year, joining institutions like the University of Melbourne, Yale University and even the World Bank, has proved to be a rewarding decision according to Ms Howes.

“MOOCs connect MoMA with new audiences that might never find us any other way and provide teachers with high quality content that is essential to their professional success. Of course, we hope that they will visit the Museum when they come to NYC some day, but we also hope that they visit their local museums and build a lifelong conversation with and about modern and contemporary art.”

In total, more than 17,000 students enrolled in the first Coursera MOOC designed as professional development for teachers, titled Art and Inquiry: Museum Teaching Strategies for your Classroom. The feedback was incredibly strong, with the great majority of students admitting that while they had no previous experience with MoMA, they were motivated to take the course because MoMA staff members were teaching it.