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What can L&D professionals learn from a museum?


A few weeks ago, a colleague dropped by my desk and shared with me that he was going to be part of a speed dating event.

“That’s nice,” I said somewhat uncomfortably. I liked this colleague, but we weren’t really so close that we shared a lot about our outside-work lives. It wasn’t any of my business whether he met people through speed dating or by swiping right on some app on his iPhone.

“It’s a training event. We’re just calling it ‘speed dating’ because we’re going to have stations and people will have about 8 minutes at each station to listen to information on a variety of topics.”

This was a much more comfortable topic for me. He was wondering how he’d be able to share information and hold everyone’s attention while a lot of other activities and noise would be filling the room.

I had an idea. 

“Why don’t you make it more like a museum?” I asked him.

I was thinking of last summer and when I took my kids to two different museums in New England: a whaling museum and the museum at the USS Constitution. We would walk into a room and my kids would run to an exhibit, they’d begin playing with the hands-on features, they’d ask me for more information about things that I never thought they’d care about. When they could interact with the educational experience, they couldn’t get enough of the content!

Exhibit A: The Story of a Sailor’s Salary during a Whaling Voyage

Museums - C Exploring

Museum - Answers

Exhibit B: How to Load a Gun on a 19th Century Navy Ship

Museums - USS Constitution

What are three transferable lessons for the world of learning and development?

Hands-on Activities

People – whether you’re 5 or 75 – like to interact with content. All of these exhibits invited people to interact with them, explore, go at their own pace and guide themselves through the content. Can you imagine walking into a training room with flipchart or easels set up, with content for people to peruse as they walk in? What if you set a tri-fold, cardboard “science fair”-style display on every participant’s table with information for people to discover before you even begin your session?

Slow Reveal

Take a look at these photos again. None of them throw all of the content at museum visitors all at once. You need to explore a little bit, then uncover more information. Read a little, then try something out. With the slow reveal, curiosity and suspense builds. Whether your 5 or 75, you want to know what happens next!

Limited, Focused Content

Instead of trying to spray their visitors with a fire hose of information in one exhibit, museums are set up to give small chunks of focused content to visitors, and then allow them to move on and get more information at another exhibit. Similarly, L&D professionals (and their audiences) would benefit by scaling back on the amount of content they offer on any given topic. The audience – whether in a museum or in a training session – will never master all the content in an hour or two or even in a full day or a week. Give them some focused content, an opportunity to interact with it, and resources to let them know where they can get more information, if they so choose.

Know someone else who could use some inspiration from some museum exhibits? Feel free to pass this post along – via email, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Have an idea for a future blog topic? Drop me a note in the comment section or via email at



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