Interest in the role of community as a site of learning has increased in recent years as policy makers and learning practitioners seek ways to address the complex social, economic, political and environmental challenges of the new economy.
The term community is often difficult to define and its usage varies widely in public discourse. For some, community refers to a group of people with a common purpose, shared values and interests, such as participation in chat rooms or special online interest groups.
For others, community is organized around a specific geographic area (such as a village, town or urban centre), cultural or demographic identities.
As research has shown, communities harness resources of knowledge, social networks, environmental assets and financial capital that enable local people and organizations to develop skills and knowledge, and strengthen values.
Indeed learning matters to individuals, providing benefits such as better health, more job opportunities and a higher quality of life. Learning matters to communities, where success is directly linked to the skills and engagement of the people who live there. And learning matters to our country’s ability to maintain a high standard of living and to participate fully in the knowledge economy.
However, measuring learning in the community is a complex task.
Measurement is the basis for tracking improvement, yet learning has traditionally been a difficult concept to quantify and report on—especially learning that takes place outside the classroom. The Canadian Council on Learning’s Composite Learning Index (CLI) is the first of its kind in the world. The index is designed to help assess the state of learning in 4,700 cities and communities across Canada, over time and throughout all stages of life.
The CLI has two main objectives: to foster an informed discussion of lifelong learning in Canada; and to identify areas of strength and weakness in learning conditions nationally, and in individual communities, enabling communities to learn from one another.
In May 2010, CCL released its fifth year of CLI results, garnering increased international attention and interest.
CLI scores show modest progress in lifelong learning. Over the past five years, Canada has witnessed no substantial progress in lifelong learning, from a CLI benchmark score of 73 in 2006 to 75 in 2010. In addition, the 2010 CLI score of 75 shows no change since 2009.
While Canada has seen only limited progress on the CLI over the past five years, the story is somewhat different when it comes to specific regions of the country.
For example, the majority (60%) of communities in Atlantic Canada have seen progress over the five-years, compared to only 26% of all communities in Western Canada. Overall, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are improving at greater rates than other provinces in Canada. The result is a narrowing of the “CLI gap” that has existed with the rest of Canada since the index began in 2006.
By monitoring progress over time; communities can better undertake strategies to maximize their strengths and effectively address their weaknesses.
Dr. Paul Cappon is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Council on Learning, Ottawa, Ontario.
Erin Mills is a Senior Research Analyst with the Canadian Council on Learning, Ottawa, Ontario.