Empower Docents with Experience Training

Renegade Tours

Museums want to create engaging programs that give visitors a truly memorable experience.  In previous articles, we’ve discussed how storytelling and technology can create powerful museum experiences that foster long-term relationships with visitors.  But simply having engaging stories, great exhibit displays, and interactive use of technology isn’t enough….

To create truly memorable museum experiences, you must invest in your staff — especially your docents.

Docents are the front line of museums.  They engage with visitors more than any other staff members.  Visitor experiences are profoundly shaped by their interactions with docents, from providing information that meets each visitor’s unique needs to influencing visitor experiences as they discover the treasures held within your museum. 

Training docents to not only be great storytellers, but to also be great at creating experiences is the key to ensuring visitors not only discover something new — but that they find your museum space an enjoyable, educational, and fun space that they’ll want to share with family and friends again and again.

In the most recent issue of the Journal of Museum Education, guest editor Jennifer DePrizio introduced us to a variety of articles that showcase how investing in professional development for museum staff – especially docents and educators – is key to transforming museums into highly valued community centers.  We’ve summarized her ideas in the slider below, as we believe that investing in your staff is the best investment you can make in revitalizing your museum.

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Early museum educators were tasked with guiding visitors, fosterin appreciation and generating dialogue

A docent's core function was "the opening of eyes."

"Many of today's museum-goers are savvy cultural consumers who expect to benefit from the museum's expertise while also being actively engaged and given the freedom to choose and organize their own experience.

Yet most museums do not feature adult learning opportunities that reflect visitor needs.

Museums should strive for experiences that empower visitors to draw on their own experiences while benefitting from educator expertise to arrive at a multifaceted understanding of objects.

"This means that museum experts need to learn how to listena nd respond, share the inquiry process, and change perspectives as new ideas emerge." - Kathleen McLean

Visitors should be our curious companions during museum experiences.

If we share knowledge and collections correctly, the public's interest in and support for museums will naturally increase.

To achieve deep, meaningful connections with visitors, we must transform how we train docents.

Training should consider the docent as an adult learner - with ongoing, non-authoritative training that builds communication and teaching skills.

Training should place the trainee as both future gallery educator and adult learner.

Training programs should reflect the flexible and responsive methods we want trainees to engage in with visitors.

"It would consciously apply adult learning theory to the planning, while introducing activities that focus on flexibility and opportunities for risk taking."

This learner-centered approach will help docents create more engaging museum experiences for adults.

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Download the PDF version of this summary here.

“Making the Case for Transforming Training” by Jennifer DePrizio originally appeared in the Journal of Museum Education, Volume 41, Issue 1, pages 3-9.

Want to invest in your staff with experience training?  Contact us to learn about our professional development workshops for museum staff and students.

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