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Cities of Learning UK

Helping People & Places tell the Story of their Learning

Cities of Learning creates new pathways into learning and employment by connecting and amplifying formal, informal, and in work learning opportunities that exist across Cities via a system of digital open badges. Open badges become a new 'currency' for learning in a place, recognising the knowledge and skills gained through participation in different activities (online and offline).

HundrED 2019


HundrED has selected this innovation to

HundrED 2019

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Target group
August 2018
Learners of all ages and backgrounds have hidden skills, talents and interests that often aren’t recognised by the broader education system. Many also lack knowledge about the variety of learning and work opportunities available in their local area, and an understanding about how to access these. Cities of Learning aims to connect different learning experiences across localities and places to enable learners to see new pathways to opportunity which may not have been visible to them previously. Digital badges create a new language for learning and skill development, which helps learners identify, develop and articulate their skills and capabilities in different contexts. More broadly, Cities of Learning looks to mobilise the potential of place based networks, new forms of civic leadership and new technologies in creating places that value and promote lifelong learning as core to their culture and civic identity.

About the innovation

What is Cities of Learning UK

Building on the work of LRNG Cities in the USA and the UNESCO Learning Cities movement, the RSA & DigitalMe have devised a new way to connect people with opportunities at scale across our cities, unlocking untapped potential for all individuals, employers and communities.

Cities of Learning is orientated around three key design principles - leadership, networks and platform. In practice this means establishing a new local leadership model in localities (engaging and bringing together civic, business, third sector organisations and education leaders), mobilising diverse networks of learning providers, and augmenting this with a digital platform which connects learners to networks of employers, formal and non-formal education providers.

Learning experiences across Cities are recognised via digital open badges, which demonstrate the knowledge, skills and capabilities gained by learners through different learning activities. Each City of Learning has its own 'skills spine' which learning experiences are connected to, and from which learning pathways into further learning or employment are created. 

The technology platform uses data insights to create new pathways into learning and employment, and drive better commissioning of services and opportunites. An inclusive approach that promotes and recognises learning wherever it happens and leads to new pathways into education and work.

The concept was prototyped in three UK Cities in 2017 - Brighton, Greater Manchester and Plymouth - and the RSA and DigitalMe are working towards the launch of two evaluated pilots of Cities of Learning in 2019.

Impact & scalability


Putting lifelong learning on the digital map - RSA
Local Learning Ecosystems: Emerging Models
How everyone can learn and work in the City of the future
Are local communities demonstrating new forms of leadership when national Government can’t?
Brighton City of Learning
Our Future City is a collective of Brighton and Hove organisations, spanning the creative industries, local businesses, youth groups, schools, arts and heritage, health and social services. We work as one to develop the creative potential, skills and voice of our children and young adults.   We have a clear ambition to prove to the world that collective action to nurture the creativity of our city’s children works – and has long-term, positive and measurable effects. Children and young people are our beginning, not our end. We work backwards from their needs then match them with the most appropriate local opportunities.   Through the development of a City of Learning (CofL) in Brighton & Hove we aim to enhance and increase progression pathways and routes to employment for all young people but especially for the most disadvantaged. We envisage a sustained shift in the recognition of informal learning and creativity as an essential literacy; and empowering more young people to develop their creativity through relevant experiences that would ultimately help them to gain skills for life and work.   CofL will aim to support wider city outcomes, with notable benefits for children and young people’s wellbeing and social mobility. In our dream scenario, a higher proportion of children and young people will gain recognition for their informal learning and the CofL approach will become embedded and integrated into the daily practice of stakeholders across the city.  We plan to develop a strongly connected and cohesive learning ecosystem supported by employers, formal and informal learning providers – co-creating and communicating about flexible learning opportunities. This will impact not only on young people’s wellbeing but also increase their agency by recognising their skills and opening up routes to use their creativity to enter the world of work, to foster entrepreneurialism and to become the future creators for the city.  Adhering to our principal of co-design ‘for, by and with’ young people we aim to embed ownership and buy-in to the CofL from the young people with whom we most want to engage. A youth-led process will enable young people to appreciate and personalise their learning journey and to help build a fulfilling future  The CofL pilot will provide a valuable focal point for the creative industries and cultural sector, offering a tangible way to join-up the rich variety of opportunities already offered to young people within a more coherent, progressive structure. This will provide enhanced support for young people as they navigate more diverse progression routes and help to secure a talent pipeline from informal learning experiences to career development opportunities and future employment.  There is a strong commitment in the city to support young people to develop their creativity and through CofL we are determined to support the development of young people’s creativity, offering flexible learning journeys that could include both formal and informal learning. CofL presents an excellent opportunity for sector to continue to advocate for the value of creativity while also providing a mechanism for young people to access and shape flexible progression pathways.
Plymouth City of Learning
The City of Plymouth, UK is embarking on a journey of discovery. Historically positioned as the place where the Pilgrim Fathers set sail for the New World, Plymouth is now developing as a place for learning, innovation and knowledge, for all future pioneers and adventurers. Working together with young people, employers, education, and community organisations towards a City of Learning that recognises and captures skills and competencies wherever they are.With its rich heritage, maritime links and growing economic and cultural status, Plymouth is at the cusp of this exciting programme with the RSA, DigitalMe and local partners, Plymouth City Council and Real Ideas Organisation. Together we’re building a grass roots, mass engagement movement that glues all the opportunities for learning across the city and presents it in a way that encourages and rewards participation. We know how much talent we have in the city, but often it's hidden, misunderstood or undervalued, creating a disenfranchised group of young people disconnected from what the city has to offer. We want to change that by empowering a network of learning providers to issue digital credentials that capture the breadth of relevant learning taking place. These digital badges will provide a window into the range of skills and competencies that we all, as lifelong learners possess and aim for, towards progression in education, employment a prosperous life.   By promoting and co-ordinating a range of opportunities, or ‘playlists’ we can demonstrate the multiple routes that can be taken for an individuals learning journey. Whether based on a specific interest or via a collection of existing skills, learners can be helped to ‘show what they know’ through an accessible and universal platform containing their own collection of achievements. More than just a portfolio of ‘awards’, digital credentials, using the Open Badge standard, contain a wealth of information on how, when and why its been earned, giving future educators or employers an insight into the range of accomplishments and how they’re relevant to employability and further opportunities. Plymouth has a rapidly growing digital sector with wide representation from key stakeholders including small businesses and large international companies. Through a co-design approach we’re focusing on developing a digital skills pilot that demonstrates how useful and important these skills are, not just for the digital sector, but all sectors and disciplines. We want to connect people with opportunities so that they can follow their passions and develop a love of learning, supported by a city wide platform to discover, promote, and celebrate all kinds of learning, wherever it takes place.  
Recruiting to Retention: The Emerging Role of Digital Credentials in the World of Work - RSA
Digital Open Badges & Technology Approach
Open Badges is the global standard for capturing and communicating skills across the web. Launched in 2012 by Mozilla, the organisation organisation behind Firefox, 15M badges have now been issued worldwide. Simply put, Open Badges are a way to describe and communicate a piece of learning.  They include a short description of the learning, information on who has issued the badge, links to evidence and other useful data.  All of this data is ‘baked’ into an image file so it can travel across the web and be viewed by humans or read by machines e.g. recruitment platforms. Badges have been created to recognise every skill from developing blockchain solutions to serving up a perfect crème brûlée, and awarded at every level, from informal learning to degrees.   On the one hand, badges are a visual way of communicating and verifying skills and on the other, a rich source of of machine-readable data which is redefining how people an organisations connect based on skills. One of the principles of Open Badges is that learners maintain ownership of their own learning data and are able to store and display their badges to different audiences on different platforms .   Unique technology features of the cities of learning model The RSA and DigitalMe have created a new and unique model for designing and implementing place based learning. The model engages local organisations to co-design badges and skills frameworks, uses pioneering open badges technology (that links badges with real-time labour market information and jobs) with the endorsement from local leadership.  Key features:  • Co-designed in three cities in the UK to meet UK needs • A partnership between RSA, Digitalme and City and Guilds providing research and design innovation, digital transformation and accreditation expertise • Technology designed and tested by user groups in Brighton, Plymouth and Manchester • Underpinned by award-winning industry leading badging platform Credly + Acclaim • Real-time links to labour market information and related jobs via Acclaim • Provision of full API integrations (to allow integrations into existing platforms • From 2019 use of machine learning to determine the most effective work pathways for individuals 
The RSA model of change - think like a system, act like an entrepreneur
Cities of Learning platform demonstrator
Cities of Learning design principles
Cities of Learning skills spine
Cities of Learning Greater Manchester blueprint

Implementation steps

Want to find out more?

Please contact Rosie at rosie.clayton@rsa.org.uk to find out more!

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