City of Lifelong Learning

Our system, now being piloted as Bendable in South Bend, Indiana, will help residents be more resilient by making essential learning resources easily accessible digitally and in person.

City of Lifelong Learning

Our system, now being piloted as Bendable in South Bend, Indiana, will help residents be more resilient by making essential learning resources easily accessible digitally and in person.


65% of jobs in the U.S. will require some post-secondary education by next year.

Yet only 46% of adults have a four-year degree, two-year degree or workforce-relevant certificate. And in many communities, opportunities for continuous skill-building are scarce.

What’s more, even those already in “good jobs” must learn new skills.

The McKinsey Global Institute projects that within the next decade, about a third of the tasks performed in 60% of all occupations will change as a result of automation and artificial intelligence.

As Peter Drucker told us: “If knowledge isn’t challenged to grow, it disappears fast. It’s infinitely more perishable than any other resource we have ever had.”

Or as he put it even more pointedly another time, “If you think training is expensive, try ignorance.”

To be resilient, all of us need to keep learning.


The South Bend lifelong learning system will empower residents to learn, build confidence and be recognized for their progress.

It will make customized recommendations from a well-curated set of learning content and support resources that align with user needs.

And it will be radically accessible, both online and via learning centers located throughout the community.

To put it all together, we have assembled an incredible team:

  • IDEO is overseeing the user-experience design.
  • Carbon Five, a San Francisco-based software firm, is developing the digital platform.
  • FSG is helping us to design our evaluation process, baking it in to the system so that we can track the right outputs and outcomes and, in turn, make better decisions from the get-go.
  • Credly is assisting us in standing up the badging and credentialing part of the system in a way that is useful for both individuals and local employers.

Under the leadership of Mayor Pete Buttigieg, South Bend is eager to be a test bed for bold ideas. Indeed, the mayor likes to call it the “Beta City.”

We’re not just building this for the community. We’re building it with the community.

With seed funding from and, we spent all of 2018 on the ground in South Bend, mostly listening. What do people want to learn? What do they need to learn? How do they like to learn?

To date, we have interviewed more than 2,000 residents. And we have earned the trust of a remarkably wide range of stakeholders—business, government, nonprofit and educational leaders, as well as churches, neighborhood associations and other grassroots groups.

At every step, we continue to co-create this system with them.


We are on track to launch the system in June 2020.

From there, it will be sustained and stewarded by the St. Joseph County Public Library.


We didn’t land in South Bend by accident. With 100,000 residents, the city is big enough to have major challenges. But it is small enough to get things done quickly.

Under the leadership of Mayor Pete Buttigieg, South Bend is eager to be a test bed for bold ideas. Indeed, the mayor likes to call it the “Beta City.”

If successful, the model will be replicated across the country. Together with IDEO, our plan is to form a network of “Cities of Lifelong Learning.”

Lifelong Learning Center Locations (preliminary)


Bendable is designed to reach all parts of the community, but its focus is on providing learning opportunities to the most underserved and economically vulnerable.

The system is being designed, above all, to help the working-age population obtain and retain better jobs. And it is aimed primarily at lifting up the most under-served and economically vulnerable. This is our focus.

It is the center of the bull’s-eye. But it’s not the entire target.

We are creating a true lifelong learning system—one that begins in early childhood and carries through someone’s entire working life and into their senior years.

Through this “pre-K to gray” orientation, we are determined to cultivate in people a habit of lifelong learning.

This will be a universal system, designed to be meaningful for—and used by—everyone.

When the corporate executive taps into the same system as the low-income service worker, it stands to undo the stigma that can come with “workforce development” for only the poor. And it promises to make for a more cohesive community.

The system will serve those who want to learn for work and advance their career. But it will also serve those who want to learn other types of skills, be it cooking more nutritious meals for their family or financial planning. Or simply because they’re curious or passionate about a topic.

Most people, of course, are interested in all of the above. If done right, each type of learning can reinforce the other.


Designated physical spaces—library branches, neighborhood tech centers and other facilities—will supply wireless connectivity, house face-to-face study sessions and learning circles, and provide a conduit to other support services (such as child care).

Librarians and other staff will help residents sign up for the system and successfully onboard.

Our digital portal will allow every citizen of South Bend to:

  • understand what skills are in demand, based on timely employer input.
  • direct people to learning opportunities to develop those skills via local institutions or through curricula available directly on the platform from national providers.
  • keep a record of what has been learned, with credentialing and badging recognized by local employers and others.
  • facilitate opportunities for learners to connect with each other—an explicit recognition that learning is social and people have expressed a strong desire to learn from each other and with each other.
  • learn beyond the workplace—for instance, how to prepare healthy meals, gain financial literacy or simply engage with a topic that is a personal passion.

Building a radically accessible product means that the lifelong learning system will be light, easy, mobile-friendly, trustworthy and just work—even if you haven’t updated your browser in a while.

  • Mobile-first, responsive web app. A feature-rich website that looks like an app. It’s designed with smartphones in mind and can be used on tablets and computers just as well. Some learning content can even be accessed on a flip phone.
  • Browser compatibility. The web app works on many types of internet browsers.
  • Low data-use. A lightweight system that works without much data demand from the user’s device.
  • Data privacy and security. These considerations are core to the design and development process.
  • Universal Design Principles. Equitable Use, Flexibility in Use, Simple and Intuitive Use, and Tolerance for Error.

We’ve designed a system built on trust, belonging and agency.

The recommendations from the system don’t simply come from an algorithm. They come from your neighbor. You can trust them.

It’s a place you belong because everyone in the community belongs as a learner. Everyone belongs in a hopeful future. Here, you’ll see people who look like you, and they’re thriving.

We know that no platform can automatically deliver you a better life. But with ours, the power to act, to take a meaningful step toward a more resilient future, to unlock your own potential—that agency is in your hands.

local organizations from all sectors are part of our Stakeholders Committee

minutes will be the maximum walk for every resident to the nearest Lifelong Learning Center

For more information please contact Lex Dennis, Director of Lifelong Learning, at or 909-607-9212.