Maine’s New Lifelong Learning Hub

Bendable Maine collects learning resources from all across the Pine Tree State.

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Say you’d like to bone up on the history of Maine’s lighthouses, learn the ins and outs of mushroom foraging, or pick up some pointers on starting a podcast. Sure, you can take your chances wading through a zillion Google results. Or, you can search a collection of in-person and online classes curated specifically for Mainers. That’s Bendable Maine, a new lifelong-learning platform created by the Drucker Institute, a California-based think tank, and offered through the Maine State Library.

Billed as a community-powered learning marketplace, Bendable Maine is a free-to-use catalog of everything from online college courses at institutions like the University of Southern Maine to digital classes through learning sites like Skillshare to local community-education offerings — even, say, cooking classes from the likes of Bath’s Now You’re Cooking kitchen store. Any institution or organization can list its classes, so long as any fee to sign up is no more than $200. As the lead on the project, the Maine State Library is funding the site and getting word out to patrons at local libraries across the state.

Bendable’s first iteration launched in 2020, in South Bend, Indiana, where early cheerleaders included former mayor Pete Buttigieg, now U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Today, Bendable has partnerships with several city and county libraries, mostly in California, but Bendable Maine is its first and only statewide manifestation. The Drucker Institute’s Rick Wartzman, who helped to spearhead the creation of Bendable, says that initial interest came from state Department of Labor commissioner Laura Fortman, who saw the platform’s potential as a workforce-development tool. At first, Wartzman was hesitant about scaling the project up — Maine’s population is more than 10 times that of South Bend, never mind the state’s geographic breadth. But the Bendable team found a sense of identity across Maine, Wartzman says, that felt similar to that of a small city.

“It’s funny, Mainers take a lot of pride in the exact place they come from,” he says, “but there is also a sense of pride in the state as a whole and a sense of cohesion that we found important to giving Bendable a real shot at success.” What’s more, he came to realize, Mainers are used to covering a lot of ground — they wouldn’t balk at the prospect of traveling an hour or two for a class that excited them in another town. 

Educate Maine program director Angela Oechslie. Photo by Dennis Welsh.

Three Drucker Institute staffers, known as Bendable Fellows, are currently logging miles across the state, working with a network of 255 libraries to gather new learning content for the site and familiarize librarians and patrons with the platform. Libraries, in turn, recruit patrons to curate Community Collections, individual learning “playlists” of recommended classes and resources, assembled by Mainers with expertise on this or that topic. These are found on the site alongside collections emphasizing workplace skills, developed in collaboration with local companies. Users might peruse Portland poet laureate Maya Williams’s curated collection on poetry and mental health, then scan a collection focused on IT skills, backed by Portland telecommunications firm Tilson.

The partnership with libraries, Wartzman explains, is key to Bendable’s success. “They provide reliable information, and they’re warm and welcoming to everybody,” he says. “And their mission really is lifelong learning — they’re dedicated to that.” 

Portland poet laureate Maya Williams, photographed by Dennis Welsh
Portland poet laureate Maya Williams. Photo by Dennis Welsh.

Adopters so far include Main Street Maine, which will steer members to Bendable for classes on customer service and other business skills, and the Maine Department of Labor, which is integrating Bendable into its career centers. A lot of the platform’s content, says MSL director of library development Marijke Visser, aligns with the governor’s 10-year economic plan, which emphasizes training on evolving technology in both heritage and emerging industries. What’s more, Visser says, she hopes the platform will help libraries welcome new Mainers, not only with skills training but also by connecting them to communities with shared interests.

“It really is our mission to look at lifelong learning across the state,” she says. “Mainers should have access to information, whether it’s for personal enrichment, for extending or building on education, or to reskill or upskill for a job. We really want to make sure that regardless of where Mainers live, they have access to something that can meet their needs.

Visit Bendable Maine to begin exploring your own interests through online courses and local, in-person opportunities.