Maclean’s magazine contacted me last month to ask for my comments about a recently released mega-study of “lifelong learning.” The subject of the piece was the 2008 Composite Learning Index (CLI), from the Canadian Council on Learning.
Here’s a link to the Maclean’s article, which has some insightful quotes from CCG’s Kevin Stolarick, and some boring ones from me.
The Maclean’s article is a good overview of the ambitious CLI study, but it’s really worth a look in its raw form. Here is the home page for the Composite Learning Index, and the 2008 report itself.
Your time is valuable, so let me just give you my thoughts about the study, having done many similar ones over the last 25 years or so.
- First, it’s huge in scope - too big, in my opinion, for any valuable insight. By covering so much, it dilutes its results by including sometimes conflicting measures.
- The study attempts to quantify “learning” in large and small cities and towns across Canada, nearly communities in all. In an apparent effort to value everyone everywhere, all types of learning are included such as use of the Internet; recreation and sports participation; buying and reading printed matter; attending live performing arts; travel time to nearby museums, libraries, and business/civic associations; expenditures on social clubs; attending church; volunteering and socializing with other cultures; as well as the more common measures of high school and university graduation rates and student test scores. These are all valuable metrics, and all worthy of their own study. By mashing them all together into one index, some insights are undoubtedly lost.
- Many of the metrics are based on estimates of household expenditures for various metrics. I did not find a list of specific sources, but in my experience household expenditure data is based on a national model, and adjusted for each geographic area, usually on the basis of income. It is unlikely that individual differences between communities are revealed, except as a function of income. Rich places spend more, poor places less.
- Some measure of the quality of the resources should be attempted, not just the proximity to libraries, schools and universities, museums and art galleries. It’s much different having access to a world-class museum with rotating exhibits, instead of a small-town one-room museum with the usual few bones, muskets, baskets, and pottery (charming though they are.) Use annual attendance figures or budgets to estimate the quality of the experience, or average entrance scores to rank universities.
- There are four major segments of the study, based on the type of learning – Knowing, Work Experience, Community, and Personal Development. These would best remain segregated. It’s appealing to combine them all into one super-score but, like mixing many colors together, insights are lost.
All in all, the CLI is a wonderfully ambitious attempt to quantify “learning” and provide a road map for the future. But a Swiss Army knife is rarely the best tool for the job, or even any job. By dividing the components of the study into more meaningful sections, better insights may be gained.
Have a look and tell me what you think. Do their rankings fit with your experience?