Museums and adult educationists should work together to create a new learning society, according to a book just published by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education.
A recent survey of 566 museums in the UK showed that their commitment to adult education was not strong.
David Anderson, education officer of the Victoria and Albert Museum, found the majority restricted their services to formal, traditional lectures or courses mostly provided by curators, not professional teachers.
More than half the respondents had no staff member with sole responsibility for education, and only 15 per cent had a staff development programme with an educational element.
But his survey, part of a national report on museum education due to be published next year, found that 70 per cent of museum visitors were adults. "How is it that there is such a wide gap between the educational needs of this vast adult audience, representing perhaps 60-80 million users each year, and the relatively limited services offered by museums?" he asked.
He also questioned why so few museum staff seemed to be aware of the significance of adult learning in their work.
In the last century, museums were more closely integrated with the adult education sector as governments and the professional classes put their faith in both as a means of achieving social and commercial improvement. Since then they have drifted apart, to their mutual impoverishment, he argues in his chapter of Museums and the Education of Adults.
Mark Taylor, director of the Museums Association, agreed: "The pendulum has swung back . . . to many who work in and with museums it seems that education means school; lectures mean classrooms; interpretation means the national curriculum, and public service means space for eating packed school lunches. "
Mr Anderson thought that museum staff had failed to explore the potential of adult education learning theories. Organisations on both sides should exchange information about good practice and collaborate on research.
He urged museum staff to learn from each other. "The current unproductive conflict between specialist curators, marketing staff, educators, discipline-based academics and others should be replaced by a determination on their part to try to develop a common set of objectives which includes adult learning."
Alan Tuckett, director of NIACE, said modern pressures to pursue qualifications had squeezed out informal learning of the kind that made life worth living. Other chapters focus on policy changes, good practice and training.
Museums and the Education of Adults, edited by Alan Chadwick and Annette Stannett, NIACE, 21 De Montfort Street, Leicester LE1 7GE. Pounds 12.