How to Bring Your Museum Programming Online

Most of you are facing the unexpected closure of your museum for an indefinite period of time and “digital” has become the primary way for you to engage your audiences.

Museums provide curated, story-driven, interactive experiences to visitors when they come on-site. That same holds true even if visitors are now ‘digital’.

The problem we’re facing

Departments throughout the museum must quickly adapt or rethink in order to respond to digital-only audience engagement: 

  • Education – cancelled field trips, educational programming, and classroom visits
  • Public Programs – cancelled tours and family and adult programming
  • Interpretation & Exhibitions – closed exhibitions, mad dash to bring content online quickly
  • Digital – avalanche of requests from content development, collections access, and IT infrastructure to big updates to the website and digital properties.

While this may seem like a mad scramble right now, there are many ways to leverage your existing assets to create meaningful, engaging, and educational experiences online. Below is a guide to get you started. 

1. First, work with what you’ve got

Your museum may already have digital interpretation experiences that can be leveraged to create an at-home experience: 

  • In-gallery Interactives – Distribute your existing kiosk touchscreen experiences as web applications. Reach into your archive of touchscreen experiences developed for past exhibitions. 
  • Online Exhibitions – Current and past exhibitions may have a dedicated microsite. Distribute as-is or update content for the current context.  
  • Mobile Guides – Add tours and interactive content to your existing mobile guide platform that adapts your educational, field trip or public programming content. 

This example adapts the content in a stop on an existing mobile tour creating a deep dive into the collection while engaging families at home. It works for all ages and is easy to accomplish with household supplies.


PRO-TIP: All CultureConnect applications are accessible by a web-based CMS and can publish to the web, are responsive in design, and work across all screen sizes, devices, browsers and operating systems.


2. Replace the field trip with distance learning 

Just as you would provide educational experiences around a particular topic, theme, exhibition or part of your collection, adapt this content into a digital experience.  We’ve heard from dozens of educators (p.s. we started years ago as an ‘edtech’ company) that they need:


– Content delivered by Grade Level


– Packaged up lessons, not an avalanche of links!


– Something easy to distribute for students using a variety of devices


– Aligned to learning standards (as simple as mentioning them when you distribute to educators or put it in an ‘info’ page in the app itself).

This interactive provides a series of portals into a history experience that leverages the museum’s collections information and analog museum educator materials. One link for the museum to manage and distribute while the experience has been replicated and adapted for use across grade levels.


PRO-TIP: For the less camera-shy, record yourself talking about the collection via video (iPhone or webcam) or audio (iPhone). This video from the Spy Museum is a great example of homemade charm and fun!


3. Create interactive family experiences at home

Parents are looking for ways to occupy their children while schools are closed (and they are working from home). Draw from activities, materials, and media that are already in your arsenal and speak directly to families observing social distancing and stuck at home.

Transform physical experiments and onsite activities into at-home experiments. Share materials, instructions, and perhaps even an instructional video of your team working through the experiment.

Embrace that your programming is restricted to the home or neighborhood and connect these environments to your collections with scavenger hunt-like games. Encourage social media sharing to further the dialog (if not create a digital memory during this extraordinary time).


CLIENT EXAMPLE: Check out the Alexandria Museum of Art’s family tours that they’ve crafted as part of their standard mobile guide.


4. Online exhibitions that are curated and engaging (just like offline)

Many museums already make their collections searchable through the website, but you must do more than share a link to a searchable encyclopedia, especially when everyone is bombarded now with so many similar links.


To stand out and reach your audience, create a curated and engaging experience online, as you would in the gallery. Help them connect more deeply to the collection through story-driven experiences that also facilitates dialog and interactivity. These can stand on their own or be companion pieces for teachers, docents, or museum educators giving talks via video conference for distance learning.

This example gives context to a curated set of collection items (easily pulled from your collections management software) and invites a conversation with museum staff and the community. Featured here are two of the methods available in the CultureConnect platform – a free response module for submitting private responses and a public discussion module for responses and dialog.


5. Bringing it all together

Whether you’re focused on education, creating a family-friendly experience, or engaging members of all ages through digital, look to leverage your:


– Online collections


– Media and marketing assets (social media channels, graphics, video)


– Interpretive content (text, audio, video, images)


– Active and retired digital properties (mobile guides, in-gallery interactives, online exhibits)


– Creative Commons resources easily available online (YouTube is magic, but so are resources published by museums with related collections)


– This easy-to-publish example below shows how all of these points are leveraged to create an engaging digital experience that connects visitors to your collection (and each other) while at home.

The Blackout Poetry activity is a potentially hours-long endeavor completed with easily found items in the house (newspaper or magazine, sharpie). It’s creative, fun for all ages, and connects visitors back to the collection in a meaningful way. Youtube videos of artist Austin Kleon who popularized this art form accompany the experience to expand the delivery methods of content and enrich the activity.


Let’s keep in touch: write us at hello [at] with what your museum and library is doing to connect with visitors during your closure.

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