How museum docents develop expertise
Grenier, Robin Sankowski
MetadataShow full item record
The purpose of this study was to examine the nature of docent expertise. To achieve this purpose, the following questions guided the research: 1) What are the characteristics that define an expert docent? 2) What types of learning experiences lead to the development of expertise? 3) How does the museum context shape docent learning? and 4) What is the process for becoming an expert docent? A qualitative research approach was employed. In-depth interviews were conducted with twelve participants to obtain data on how museum docents learned their craft and developed expertise. A purposeful sampling of four historically themed museums that provide docent lead tours to visitors was conducted. The sample included the Abigail Adams Historical Society and Birthplace, the Atlanta History Center, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Boston By Foot. All participants were docents with at least three years of museum experience in leading group tours or programs. The primary data sources for this qualitative study were in-depth interviews with open-ended questions and supporting data from observation, and documents to provide a contextual frame. Analysis revealed that the characteristics of expert docents can be categorized as facilitating learning, which includes communicating information, reading and adapting to the audience, and knowledge of the subject matter, as well as the categories of integrating prior experience, demonstrating enthusiasm and commitment, and maintaining a sense of humor. An analysis of the findings also addressed the types of learning experiences that lead to the development of expertise in docents and included formal training and continuing education and informal and incidental learning. The third category of findings examined the role of context in shaping docent learning through physical, emotional, and social influences. Finally, analysis of the last set of findings relates to the nature of expertise development, which is illustrated through a cyclical process of phases: Dependence, Growing Independence, and Transcendence. Based on the findings the following conclusions were drawn from the study: docent expertise is a combination of acquired and preexisting characteristics; the nature of expertise is cyclical and fluid; and context is integral to docent learning, as well as expertise development and re-development.