The Smithsonian Learning Lab is a digital, interactive archive hosting over a million museum artifacts and multimedia. The platform allows users to explore the archive, prepare collections, and share them with the world. It also has lesson plans and activities for teachers. For example, teachers can assign students to compare and contrast images in a particular collection.

Pros:

As a New Yorker, one of the most intriguing collections is one called The Subway. The collection has paintings, photographs, and old maps of New York City subway stations. It was fascinating to see how much the culture of the riders and the look of the trains changed over time. As someone who had never been to the Smithsonian, I felt like the digital archive gave me an idea of what the real collection would be like. I could imagine students interacting with the archive similarly to a Pinterest page.

Cons:

The Learning Lab platform is not exactly intuitive; it takes a few clicks and a bit of time to understand how to use it. It would be helpful to have some built-in scaffolding. The options for interactions are also limited. Social components such as like or rate buttons could offer more engagement opportunities. It also would be useful to have a related images or media section, so when you click on one thing you can see other artifacts from the same artist or time period.

Our Takeaway:

As an avid museum explorer, I must acknowledge that I have not had a digital experience that adequately replaced the thrill of being in the same room with a painting or an artifact from the past. However, the Smithsonian Learning Lab is a great way to introduce students and adults to the opportunities available in the museum.

Image: National Museum of Natural History by Phil Roeder via Flickr