We are fortunate to have a vast cultural collection here on-campus (and online via Pedestal by the Pedestal 3D team). From ancient and modern art works to biological and geological collections, there are boundless opportunities to incorporate object-based learning (OBL) to enrich the learning experience and encourage deeper learning and creative thinking.

What is OBL?

As a ‘hands-on’ approach (experiential learning), direct interaction or close contact with objects evokes active learning.

Confronted with a tangible artefact, students are challenged to interrogate an object, formulate their conceptual thinking, and articulate their thinking.

It promotes a student-driven approach to knowledge creation through transfer: drawing on prior knowledge through object interaction.

how objects can surprise, intrigue and absorb learners; how learners’ wonder  of or pleasure in an object – the wow of an item – can create rich, important and fun learning
– Hardie (2015)

Why use OBL in learning and teaching?

Authentic and replica material objects bring ideas to life in a way that it not possible through text, 2D representations or digital recreations.

Objects can be used to:

  • provoke lateral, creative and imaginative thinking
  • connect knowledge, evidence and interpretation
  • promote discussion, ideas and peer exchange
  • stimulate problem solving or experimentation
  • develop their own questions and strategies for answering the questions
  • address threshold concepts
  • explore disciplinary consciousness

…helps students apply knowledge, ideas and opinions they already hold and become “unstuck” in the language of threshold concepts in epistemology.
– Morgan (2018)

How to use OBL in curriculum?

Think about a target skill, concept or experience you would like to develop.


Discipline Purpose Objects and Activity
Linguistics unit Investigate inscriptions and identify ancient scripts and texts Explore objects displaying ancient texts in the Museum of Ancient Cultures
FoHS Partnership Program Target: communication skills

Key point: raise awareness of the importance of active listening skills in the role of a change agent and advocate

Using objects from either the Australian History Museum or Museum of Ancient Cultures one group of students (seers) describe the object(s) to a second group of students (blind partners) to draw and interpret.
Psychology research project* Outreach to people with dementia Objects from the Australian History Museum are used as a stimulus for a memory trigger for participants with or without dementia

*Congratulations to the Australian History Museum and Macquarie University Art Gallery on receiving a Liveable Communities Grant for The Art and Object Engagement (AOE) program. This project will improve the emotional and social wellbeing of older people living at home with dementia and their carers.

Find inspiration for your units from this ‘elevator pitch’ about OBL:

Who can help me make this happen?

The MQ Object-based Learning Pilot project team are seeking collaborators from all faculties and disciplines.


Jane Thogersen (Manager, Australian History Museum)

Further Reading

Chatterjee, H.J. (2010). Object-based learning in higher education: pedagogical power of museums. Putting University Collections to Work in Teaching and Research – Proceedings of the 9th Conference of the International Committee of ICOM for University Museums and Collections (UMAC), Berkeley, USA, 10th–13th September 2009, pp 179-182.

Chatterjee, H.J. & Hannan, L. (2015). Engaging the Senses: Object-based Learning in Higher Education. New York.

Duhs (2010). Learning from university museums and collections in higher education: University College London (UCL). In: MacDonald et al. (eds.). University Museums and Collections Journal 3 Putting University Collections to Work in Teaching and Research. Proceedings of the 9th Conference of the International Committee of ICOM for University Museums and Collections (UMAC). Berkeley, USA, 10th-13th September 2009: pp.183-186.

Hardie, K. (2015). Innovative pedagogies series: Wow: The power of objects in object-based learning and teaching. Higher Education Academy.

Morgan (2018). Understanding Dworkin through art: object-based learning and law. The Law Teacher 52 (1). DOI: 10.1080/03069400.2017.1279437 – via MQ Library.

Posted by Beverley Miles

Beverley is a Senior Learning Designer in the Academy of Continuing Professional Development in Education, Faculty of Arts. She is the founder of the Macquarie Undergraduate Research Internship (MURI), co-director of the Telemachus Ancient History Mentor Program (Tele's Angels), and member of the Archaeology of Death and Burial TV team led by A/Prof Ronika Power – bringing digital multimodal text types to assessment with Adobe Education.

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