Object-based Learning Research

Object-based Learning at UCL

Student examines print with magnifying glass

In recent years, pioneering research into the value of object-based learning (OBL) in a higher education context has been undertaken at University College London. This research was prompted by the observation that whilst a rich literature on the use of collections in museum and gallery education existed, little had been written on the particular benefits of this method of learning for university programmes – despite universities holding large and unique collections of art works, manuscripts, specimens, rare books and artefacts. In response, Dr Helen Chatterjee, and her colleagues Dr Rosalind Duhs, Dr Leonie Hannan and Dr Thomas Kador, have developed a programme of research dedicated to uncovering the ways in which museum collections can enhance learning for undergraduate and postgraduate students.

This research is strongly linked to pedagogies of active and experiential learning, which sees hands-on engagement with the object of study as key to personal meaning-making and the long-term retention of ideas. The research uses a variety of methods including surveys, semi-structured interviews, focus groups and observations.

OBL and the Student Experience

Object-based learning session at the Grant Museum

To date the focus has been on the student experience of learning through objects and data collected between 2010 and 2012 revealed that a majority of students, across a range of disciplines, thought object-based learning was a more effective method of learning than a lecture or talk. This was a compelling finding, but since then the research team has sought to explore in more detail the spectrum of practice in object-based learning sessions and the ways in which different disciplines use objects to help students understand new knowledge and develop key skills.

An aim of future research is to find out how tactile engagements with museum objects affect learning and to explore the different kinds of interactions students might have with 2D and 3D material.


Helen J. Chatterjee and Leonie Hannan have recently published a book entitled Object-Based Learning in Higher Education (Ashgate, 2015). The book brings together an international network of contributors from universities and museums in the UK, USA, Europe and Asia and presents the first comprehensive exploration of object-based learning as a pedagogy for higher education.

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Chatterjee, H.J. (2008a), ‘Staying Essential: Articulating the value of OBL’, University Museums and Collections Journal, 1, 1-6. 

Chatterjee, H.J. (ed.) (2008b), Touch in Museums: Policy and practice in object handling. Oxford: Berg.

Chatterjee, H.J. and Duhs, R. (2010), ‘OBL in Higher Education’, CETLD Learning at the Interface Conference Proceedings

Chatterjee, H.J. (2011), ‘Object-Based Learning In Higher Education: The pedadogical power of museums’, University Museums and Collections Journal, 3, 179-181. 

Duhs, R. (2010), ‘Learning from University Museums and Collections in  Higher Education: University College London (UCL)’, University Museums and Collections Journal, 3, 183-6. 

Hannan, L, Duhs, R. and Chatterjee, H.J. (2013). ‘Object Based Learning: a powerful pedagogy for higher education’. In Museums and Higher Education Working Together: Challenges and Opportunities. Eds. A. Boddington, J. Boys & C. Speight.  Farnham & Burlington: Ashgate, pp. 159-168

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