Teaching & Object-Based Learning

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

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.

Dodo bones, original manuscrips and Roman sandals are not just priceless treasures tucked away in UCL's museums and special collections, they are invaluable educational tools. With three museums open to the public, prized literary and art collections and a growing digital library at its disposal, UCL enjoys a unique position from which to pormote object-based learning in its teaching. Using objects in teaching not only helps students to understand their subject but also develops academic and transferable skills such as team work and communication, analytical skills practical observation and drawing skills. It can also trigger innovative dissertation topics. Use of the collections is effective at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels and UCL's museums currently work with course from across the whole spectrum of academic disciplines, engaging thousands of students with innovative object-based learning every year. UCL's new Arts and Sciences (BASc) degree includes a second year core module entitled Object Lessons: Communicating knowledge through collections, which is built around object-based learning methodology.


If you would like to develop a new session which uses the museums collections there is plenty of support at hand from Teaching Fellow - Thoas Kador and a range of curators and museum experts. Museum staff are always happy to work with you to create new learning opportunities for your students or to enhance exisiting courses with object-focused activity.  Our museums also provide inspiring environments for teaching.

Object-based e-resources

Our object-based e-resources have been designed in consultation with teaching staff for use across a wide range of subjects from teh life sciences to artefact studies.

  1. Vertebrate Diversity
  2. Portrait Highlights
  3. 100 Faces
  4. French Revolution
  5. Anatomy
  6. The History of Electricity

We would like this collection of resources to keep growing, so if you would like to adapt an exisiting resource or create a new one please get in touch with Thomas Kador. Thomas is happy to advise on all aspects of using museum collections, digital or otherwise in teaching at UCL. UCL have worked closely with the University of Reading and the Collections Trust to share resources and given greater access to our museum and archival collections.  Here are further e-resources relevant to museum studies from the University of Reading.  We have also made around 150, 000 individual museum and archival objects from UCL and the University of Reading's unique collections available on Culture Grid.

Benefits of using real objects in learning.

  • They provide a direct link with a topic or 'the past' and can really enhance young people's interest in and understanding of a topic/subject
  • They encourage learners to use all their senses - especially touch, sight and smell
  • They help to develop the important skill of drawing conclusions based on an examination of evidence, together with an understanding of the limitations and reliablility of evidence.
  • They are ideal for generating group and class discussion.
  • They promote the value of museums and encourage young people to visit museums and galleries with their families to further their learning.

Practical advice

Joe Cain, Professor of History and Philosopy of Biology has written Practical Concerns when Implementing Object-Based Teaching in Higher Education, a paper that acknowledges the difficulties lecturers may face when planning to use objects in their teaching but also illustrates the rich rewards to be gained from this approach. "OBL isn't just about objects, it's about teaching too," he writes. "It's inextricably linked to criticisms of chalk-and-talk lecture styles and to the promotion of active, open-ended, student-centred learning".


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.

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 and Burlington: Ashgate, pp. 159-168
Chatterjee, H. J. (2010). 'Object-Based Learning in Higher Education: The pedagogical power of museums.' University Museums and Collections Journal, 3: 179-181 edoc.hu-berlin.de/umacj/2010/chatterjee-179/PDF/chatterjee.pdf
Chatterjee, H. J. & Duhs, R, (2010). 'Object Based Learnign in Higher Education: Pedagogical perspectives on enhancing student learning through collections' Centre for excellence in Teaching and Learning Through Design, University of Brighton, 3-6. Publishied online: 1/7/2010 arts.brighton.ac.uk/__data/.../pdf.../01-Object-based-learning-in-higher-education.pdf
Chatterjee, H. J. (2009). 'Staying Essential: Articulating the Value of Object Based Learning.' University Museums and Collections Journal. Published online: 15/01/2009 edoc.hu-berlin.de/umacj/1/chatterjee-helen-1/PDF/chatterjee.pdf


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