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Inspired Information Literacy: Learning from Museum Educators to Engage Minds in Library Instruction

Guide to accompany IFLA Information Literacy Poster.

Falk & Dierking Discuss Free-Choice Learning

The Theories

Falk & Dierking’s constructivist approach empowers visitors to choose what, where, when, with whom and how one learns.

  • Allow for the individual’s own unique learning agenda to emerge.

  • Address the effect of time on learning.

  • Respect that learning is always situated and contextualized.

  • Be open to a broad range of learning outcomes Emphasize validity over reliability.


According to Hein, “embracing constructivism requires two self-conscious acts:

  1. Acknowledge that exhibition-making is not displaying truth, but interpretation.
  2. Pursue aggressively the study of how visitors make meaning in the museum” (Chapter 8).

Falk, John H., Lynn D. Dierking, and Marianna Adams. 2006. In A companion to museum studies, ed. S. Macdonald. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.

Hein, George E. 1998. Learning in the museum. London: Routledge.

Embracing Constructivism

Library patrons, like museum visitors, use the space, services, and resources to construct meaningful knowledge.  In the library classroom, students typically hear, read, and see new information.  What is sometimes missing is an opportunity to make sense of the information for themselves.  In order to facilitate meaningful learning, the librarian should allow students to articulate how this new information fits in with their existing understanding and experiences.  

Here are two exercises to encourage synthesizing the new and the old. After a discussion of source evaluation, for example:

  1. Ask students to select two useful resources and to write a brief explanation of how they plan to use them in an upcoming project and to describe how the information contained clarified or changed their understanding of the topic.
  2. Have students pair off to discuss the appropriateness and potential uses of an assigned source.  Ask them to make a list of pros and cons for the source and to explain how and if they would use it for the assignment at hand.  Ask them to reflect on how their partner's understanding differed from theirs and how/if it informed their own.