• Becca, Learning Wayfinder

Resources Clinic: Trail Guides

What is a trail guide? What does it include? What are the goals of making one?

In June, we met and brought together resources from knowledge centres/visitor attractions/sites that we’ve gathered throughout our careers, and from around the world: designs that caught our eye, souvenirs, and ones with ideas that inspired us. In fact, we brought together so many resources that we couldn’t get through them all! But never fear: the Scottish Learning Group is setting up other meet ups to go through more kinds of informal and formal, led- and self-led resources and aimed at different learning audiences.

At this particular session, our resources scramble focused on trail guides. We looked at those made for informal learning provision, not ones aimed at schools and other formal learning institutions (as that is a whole other session!). We also focused on paper guides, not apps or VR/AR.

Interested in finding out more? See our linked blog post on how to create the perfect trail guide. We discovered and discussed so much that two blog posts were needed!

What is a trail guide?

A trail guide is a place-based, hand-held resource that lead learners on a route through an area and have activities to do at each stop, such as ‘spot the ____’. They can cover all of Scotland or a permanent outdoor or indoor place or temporary space/event (e.g. Edinburgh Science Festival’s Discovery Trail, which asked learners to look at photographs). In informal learning, most trail guides are aimed at children, so the audience for these are actually families.

A trail guide usually includes:

  • a map

  • a number of stops, where the trail guide asks participants to do action(s)

  • visitor information

  • fun facts

  • the organisations’ details/promotion

  • illustrations and photos

  • calls to action

  • notes/pictures to raise greater awareness of what is found at your site/attraction/area

  • opportunities for adults and children to figure out the answers together

In addition, they may contain:

  • learning objectives, which aid in actually designing the resource, in evaluating it and to centre it around key themes

  • ‘busy work’ – this is something to do but with no learning objective. We debated if colouring sheets, for example, have learning objectives

  • ideas or links to ‘go further’ such as: a Moodle course or a takeaway activity to be done at home: recipes, cut outs and other crafts

Goals: a trail guide:

  • doesn’t require staff*

  • is a different offering to what else is there

  • can be permanent, seasonal or highlight a temporary event

  • gives guidance

  • pulls out info that visitors may otherwise miss

  • takes people to where they don’t normally go/low traffic areas

  • makes use of/reformats formal education learning points into informal settings

  • is deeper learning rather than broader learning – visitors go in-depth at points rather than across the whole area

  • is a way to present key, on-the-ground examples of the organisations’ messages

  • can create revenue (‘unrestricted funds’) or attract sponsorship

  • attracts families as it offers to enhance families’ visiting experience. The trails are either something families do together…or are a chance for grateful adults to zone out for a minute

  • a way to introduces various different perspectives of e.g. historical characters/period, buildings, cultures, and the natural world

  • fun, informal ways for learners to engage with the spaces/places

  • an opportunity for children to practice/apply their skills, in particular: literary (e.g. anagrams), art (colouring pages, drawing), looking/searching, compare and contrast what you see in front of you and what you see on the guide, and comprehension skills.