Building safe, healthy, and prosperous communities

I began working on this blog about “Learning Cities” last week and then heard the news about the Orlando mass shooting. My heart goes out to the victim’s families and I can no longer stand silent. This hate crime and act of terrorism on the LGBTQ community cannot be forgotten along with the many other acts of violence, hate, and fear committed in the US over the last few years such as Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut (2012), Inland Regional Center in California (2015), and Planned Parenthood in Colorado (2015). Unfortunately, mass shootings are not the only symptom of our broken society; many families suffer enormous pain and loss from suicides and homicides due to gun violence. “The US has nearly six times the gun homicide rate of Canada, more than seven times the rate of Sweden, and nearly 16 times the rate of Germany,” (Frostenson & Kliff, 2016, This is unacceptable for a first world country and a nation that considers itself the leader of the free world.
However, I don’t want to over simplify these terrible tragedies. There are many factors that lead to a culture of violence and we need a complex intervention that incorporates more than just stronger gun control. We need to ask ourselves the following questions: 1) What factors are spurring hatred and intolerance? 2) How do we build peace and prosperity in an equitable and inclusive way? 3) What are other countries doing successfully that we can learn from? 4) What types of corruption and crime in government, business, and neighborhoods are making it difficult to create positive and lasting change? 5) How are “we the people” choosing our leaders and are we engaged citizens? (Thank you, Charissa Urbano for getting me thinking in terms of questions!)
I was planning to write a piece on how the Learning City movement started in Europe in the 1970s (tied to UNESCO’s Institute for Lifelong Learning and more recently UNESCO’s Global Network of Learning Cities- This approach is one way to increase peace and prosperity in our communities. I feel even more strongly about this after the Orlando massacre. The Learning City framework is a holistic approach to community development based on learning, education, and growth. It includes learning about ourselves and our neighbors, building bridges between different groups, working collaboratively across multiple sectors of society to solve problems, and creating unity around a shared goal of learning, peace, and prosperity. It is also data driven and uses research to direct practical initiatives. Data (qualitative and quantitative) paints a picture of one’s society and we can use data and information to better understand the issues at hand as well as the factors influencing them. Through this deeper understanding brought on by critical thinking and collaborative learning it is possible to create multifaceted interventions that produce sustainable change.
The idea of Learning Cities- using lifelong learning strategies to develop expertise, citizenship, and direct positive change in our communities- has been supported by many research studies. On an individual level, it is well known that there is a positive correlation between educational level and several factors including socioeconomic status, health (physical and psychological), happiness, and intelligence ( As for the community level, many Learning Cities have been tracking the connection between lifelong learning initiatives and city/region economic and social prosperity. For example, Cappon and Laughlin (2013) describe a Composite Learning Index used in Canada and then adopted by the Bertelsmann Foundation based in Germany and applied throughout Europe.
Cappon and Laughlin (2013) found a .78 correlation between educational and citizenship factors and social and economic well-being of the community/city. Educational and citizenship factors included youth literacy, educational obtainment, workplace training, volunteering and engagement in community organizations, participation in sports and cultural events. Examples of the outcome measures were population health and safety, human rights, voter participation, income levels, and unemployment rates. From reviewing this research and talking directly with individuals working on Learning City initiatives from around the globe, I believe this strategy is an ideal way to create peace, happiness, and prosperity in American Cities. Up until this point (2016) there has been very little organized initiatives in the USA using the Learning City Framework. The potential to bring our communities together, share resources, and make a real difference in the lives of our citizens, including the most marginalized, is undeniable.
As a social scientist and educator I have had the pleasure of interacting with people at all different economic levels, with diverse backgrounds, and who had values and beliefs that were in opposition to some of mine. I have not always been comfortable in these interactions, I have sometimes gotten emotional discussing charged topics, and sometimes I want to throw up my hands and say, “it is not possible to make the world a better place so why try.” Then, I look at my family, my kids, and I think that I can’t give up. I must try harder to understand and find a shared way to move forward. And when I am not sure how to proceed, my family, friends, colleagues, and strong people from all over the world through literature, conferences, and social media show me how to take the next step.
Attending the PASCAL 2016 Learning Cities Conference in Glasgow Scotland  ( not only provided me with practical ideas about how to advance my own community and conduct meaningful research but it helped me regain my belief that we are all part of one shared humanity. Women and men, seniors and students, were all there sharing research and community initiatives, hopes and aspirations for a better world, and were developing and tracking real outcomes based on collaborative change processes within small communities like Cork, Ireland to large cities like Beijing China.                 I am advocating the need to learn about your community, it’s strengths and weaknesses, educate yourself through formal and informal means so that you can apply your knowledge not just to a career but to being a parent, a neighbor, and a citizen who thinks critically, acts intentionally, and does not shy away from difficult conversation and uncomfortable moments but uses them to reflect and grow and create a positive future for all.

Value of lifelong learning stands out for Millennials

According to the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, work/life balance and opportunities to progress are among leading factors (beyond pay and financial benefits) for evaluating job opportunities. Such factors signal an appreciation for lifelong learning within organizations that promote a collaborative work environment.

In fact, 76 percent of millennials prefer a more creative, inclusive culture rather than an authoritarian, rules-based work approach. Millennials globally reported greater work satisfaction that supported positive values, such as:

  • Open and flee-flowing communication;
  • Mutual support and tolerance; and a
  • Strong commitment to equality and inclusiveness.

Such emphasis on the organizational behavior of today’s work environment reinforces the essential value of lifelong learning.

Gloria Cordes Larson, president of Bentley University, cites this study by commenting that Millennials clearly understand the value of lifelong learning and its importance to acquiring new skills, staying ahead of market trends, even staving off “potential boredom” at work (“What to do when you’re bored with your job,” Fortune, April 2016).

The future value of lifelong learning has yet to be defined for the millennial generation. But a glimpse seems to reveal that entire work systems and organizations will have to change in order to accommodate the whole person.

Millennials are lifelong learners, who balance time, talent, and commitments and who work, not from a corner cubicle, but across a connected domain.


Most Americans considered Lifelong Learners

73% of adults consider themselves “lifelong learners” according to a recent Pew Research Center report on Lifelong Learning and Technology (March, 2016).

In America according to Pew, there are two types of lifelong learners: personal learners and professional learners.

Personal lifelong learners participate in activities that interest themselves including attending courses, workshops, and seminars for personal development.

Professional lifelong learners connect to opportunities for career advancement by taking courses for improving job skills and expertise.

This report also highlights a new and exciting trend in learning that will continue across generations. However, barriers to participating still persist related to educational level, household income, and technology access.

A looming question surrounding the emerging field of lifelong learning, is how can all people, despite academic, economic, or social status, actively learn at every stage of life?

Providers of learning must be prepared to offer courses and activities for more than personal and professional learners, and begin to shift Americans’ interests toward the lifelong betterment of communities, cities, and a larger “learnlong” society.

Rethinking Learning for Changing Education

Lives matter, actions matter, even words matter. What these signal are the values of humanity for treating everyone as equal; they highlight the power of coming together and the importance of communication by choosing the words we use.

So when we say we’re “learning” something, why does that matter, and what does learning really mean? 

Learning is best described as a process, which is different from a product or a collection of information. It’s this process that means we are always changing, modifying, and refining what we know, do, value, and prefer.

What’s interesting is that many of us suggest that learning occurs in designated areas such as schools, workplaces, or traditional spaces built for learning, namely universities, museums, and libraries.

But something as simple as learning (an always changing process) being housed in places that doesn’t change, makes me also wonder what we really mean, even more, what really matters, about our “education…”


State of Lifelong Learning: 5 New Opportunities

In a season of State of Union addresses, it seems quite fitting to offer a brief statement about the status of lifelong learning for upcoming years.

As Jeff Cobb points out in Leading the Learning Revolution, lifelong learning represents an emergent opportunity in how we deliver and consume learning. But more than that, lifelong learning has entered a phase that is no longer optional or discretionary.

In the upcoming years, lifelong learning will be mandatory, in other words, essentially required in order to sustain a better quality of life.

The long-awaited time for lifelong learning has finally come. After forty years, when Congress introduced the “Lifelong Learning Act” as an amendment to reauthorizing the well-known Higher Education Act, it unfortunately did not pass. Still the ultimate purpose of it captures the growing need to introduce federal policy that improves learning opportunities for individual citizens in local communities.

Given how learning and education have changed over four decades, such a social policy needs to be reassessed to meet the needs of multiple generations. From the mature generation, baby-boomers, GenXers, to the millennials, lifelong learning presents an opportunity for everyone, regardless of age, education level, job or social status.

With this in mind, I present five emerging opportunities for lifelong learning in the upcoming years:

1. Learning Cities: The topic of learning cities and regions represents how lifelong learning can be implemented in metropolitan areas with diverse learning needs.

2. Adjunct, Contingent, and Community College Educators: Learners and Educators are joined together in the new lifelong learning landscape such that educators who were considered on the fringes of education will now dominate a central role in the collective mainstream of higher education.

3. Lifelong Learning Policy: The historic Lifelong Learning Act only points to the need for cities and communities to begin creating social education policy that considers lifelong learning-for-all, “from cradle to the grave,” beyond traditional schooling.

4. Learning Assessment and Analytics: Data and the analysis of data will only increase in the upcoming years where lifelong learning will require formal assessment tools and analytical measures to inform decision-making to implement policies and programs.

5. Quality of Life: Issues such as obesity, diabetes, and other health concerns cannot be left to medical doctors to solve, but actually health and community issues represent an overall quality of life concern for an entire population. Public health will require lifelong learning to play a part in informing and practicing healthful actions. Lifelong learning for our quality of life includes not only health concerns, but also the multi-literacy of common problems that threaten the vitality and well-being of every community.

So the State of Lifelong Learning is extensive and in the upcoming years it will be “trans-formative” in changing mindsets, commitments, and actions for the sake of learning without end.