Feyza Ağlargöz, Ozan Ağlargöz, Tuğçe Tuğyam İlhan, Feyyaz (Anadolu University)

Shared On Your (Hi)Story: Instagram As a Tool For Informal Education In Museums

International Council of Museums defines the museum as a permanent institution in the service of society which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment (ICOM, 2007). Although museums are traditionally known as formal places for connecting us to the history by preserving heritage (Iversen and Smith, 2012: 126), museums today become places of knowledge where learning is expected and offer countless learning opportunities for self-directed adult learners (Kelly, 2013; Banz, 2008:51).

The technological, demographic, and cultural environment is constantly changing, and hence, audiences of museums are transforming. Among these changes, social media has become a natural hub for people. Kelly (2013) states that museums maintain their existence in three different environments as their physical site, the online space, and the mobile space via websites and social media. The high penetration rates in social media offer museums new ways of interactive communication in creating and maintaining long-term relationships with their audiences and in connecting potential audiences and reaching specific communities. Social media empowered people by providing user-led and two-way communication (Drotner and Schrøder, 2013: 3-9). Social media offer numerous opportunities for museums by creating interactive communication processes through which connecting cultural heritage to the daily lives’ of actual and potential visitors and thus increases the brand awareness (Drotner and Schrøder, 2013; Iversen and Smith, 2012; Marselis and Schütz, 2013; Chung et al., 2014). Social media is a part of the digitalization of museum collections, which is crucial in the sustainability of cultural heritage for future generations.

Besides all these benefits of social media, museums can utilize social media as a tool for informal learning. Visitor learning is a key concern to museums and recently, social media takes a central role in the creation of informal learning environments like museums and art galleries for audiences and visitors (Russo et al., 2006; Russo et al., 2009; Witworth and Garnett, 2011; Charitonos et al., 2012; Shaw and Krug, 2013). Kelly (2013) reviewed social media as an educational tool. Social media have broadened learning by focusing on forming a participatory structure instead of individual or institutional ownership (Russo et al., 2009: 156). It is argued that museums can prepare their visitors for their physical visits by informing and educating them via social media in advance (Padilla-Meléndez and Águila-Obra, 2013).

Instagram, as a visual-based application, fits very well with the context of museums. Instagram, as a visual social media, is a popular platform for visitors to share their experiences (Budge, 2017: 70). Today, Instagram is the third most popular social media network following Facebook and YouTube, with one billion monthly active users worldwide. 72% of the 13-17 age group, 64% of the 18-29 age group and 40% of the 30-49 age group use Instagram. 80% of Instagram users follow companies on Instagram. Instagram is now the preferred advertising media. Especially Millennials watch or record Stories and Live videos on Instagram (West, 2019). Millennials are generally different from the older generations; they are more likely to search about artworks online, mind online peer reviews, and find ways to learn more about an artwork or a museum after going an event or visiting a museum (Axiell, 2016). Today learners participate, contribute, and collaborate anywhere and anytime (Charitonos et al., 2012:817). Therefore, the role of education needs to shift toward a more self-directed and collaborative approach (Adams Becker et al., 2017).

There are studies on Instagram in the context of museums such as Weilenmann (2013) and Budge (2017). Enhancing the knowledge on Instagram uses of museums, the primary purpose of this study is to explore and interpret Instagram accounts of museums as a tool for informal learning. By analyzing the content of Instagram accounts of the world’s most physically visited and virtually most liked museums, the study will investigate how museums use Instagram for educational purposes. To understand the educational potential of Instagram in informal learning for museums, social media accounts of these organizations will be analyzed by using content analysis. To the authors’ best knowledge, this paper is one of the first to study social media as a tool for informal learning in museums. Findings of the study will assist museums and other cultural institutions to manage their online strategies better and to contribute their life-long learning efforts.


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