First UK City of Learning pilot will launch in 2017

Press release

  • RSA and DigitalMe announce partnership to pilot new mass-engagement education movement
  • New A Place for Learning paper sets out blueprint for a City of Learning

The UK’s first mass-engagement, city-based, grassroots education movement will be launched in 2017 to connect young people with informal learning opportunities.

Following the success of the City of Learning model in Chicago, Dallas and Pittsburgh, the RSA and DigitalMe have agreed a partnership to research and co-design how a model might work in the UK.

Early next year, the RSA will announce which city is to host the City of Learning pilot. The RSA is currently discussing potential partnerships with a number of different cities across the country.

The City of Learning pilot will draw together a place’s cultural and education institutions, community groups and businesses to provide learning experiences for young people that help them identify and pursue their passions. The initiative will foster lifelong learning across the pilot city.

The programme will focus particularly on young people who lack access to opportunities to develop the social and cultural capital needed to progress. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are significantly less likely to have access to extra-curricular activities and informal learning opportunities such as work experience.

The initiative will create a range of informal learning opportunities which will be drawn together on an online platform. Open badges will be awarded by members of the City of Learning partnership to those young people who complete learning experiences. Students will create and display their own learning journeys based on their passions and these will appear on an online portal to be shared with prospective employers or education institutions.

Alongside the announcement of the pilot, the RSA has published a blueprint for how a City of Learning might work in practice. A Place for Learning: Placing Learning at the heart of our civic culture imagines a fictional place, Kensalfield, led by a mayor who has committed to transforming the town into a City of Learning. The 20-point plan sets out how a city could be transformed in to a place which puts lifelong learning at the heart of its culture.

Commenting on the announcement, Anthony Painter, RSA Director of Action and Research, said:

“For too long we have seen learning in very narrow terms. It is something that takes place in certain settings at certain times. The reality, however, is a passion for learning can be ignited in unexpected ways, often in non-traditional settings.

“With DigitalMe, who are not just national but international leaders in the ‘open badges’ movement, we are exploring a new locally led proposition. Combined with the RSA’s insights into a new leadership role for cities and localities - and insights into the future of learning - we foresee a powerful combination that can begin to stitch together a new movement for learning. We look forward to working with cities and other partners towards the first pilot.”

Tim Riches, Chief Executive of DigitalMe, said:

“One of the key challenges we face today is helping learners communicate the full picture of their skills and achievements. Learning is often driven by an individual’s interests and passions, and can happen anywhere - in and out of school and online. 

“Charities and employers such as the Children's Society and O2 use Open Badges to recognise skills outside the classroom. This exciting new partnership with the RSA gives us the opportunity to work city-wide, opening up new routes to activities that interest young people and pathways into education and employment.

“Using Open Badges, the City of Learning partnership will empower learners to share their achievements with the people who matter: peers, educators and employers.”

Notes to Editors

  1. A Place for Learning: Placing Learning at the heart of our civic culture is available at
  2.  The Dallas City of Learning has engaged nearly 35,000 young learners in the last two years alone, of which 70% come from the most deprived areas. It is motivating and opening up access to opportunities for those young people most likely to be affected by the opportunity gap. Led by the City of Dallas and Dallas Independent School District, it has developed a network of over 200 partners from schools and community colleges to major employers such as Gap Inc, Exxon Mobil, Microsoft, Best Buy, and Walt Disney Corporation. Learning experiences range from videos about earthquake proofing their city to a summer robotics camp and a get into work programme with Gap. Already, over 285,000 learning hours have been logged and over 37,000 open badges awarded.
  1. The RSA has had an interest in civic mobilisation around learning, open badges, and the ‘City of Learning’ concept through its Power to Create research programme. Its work in the creative learning and development space aims to ‘close the creativity gap’ – a gap which means that too many people are denied the opportunity to continually develop creativity throughout their lives. This philosophy was captured in a major report sponsored by Google, ‘The New Digital Learning Age’, which advocated the exploration of the City of Learning concept in the UK.
  1. DigitalMe is an award winning social enterprise with a unique combination of learning design and technical expertise.  Their mission is to enable people to get recognition for the skills and competencies they need to thrive in work and life.  Using Open Badges, they work with educators, charities and employers to create a digital currency that recognises everyone’s skills and talents, opening up new opportunities for education, enterprise and employment.  Over the last 5 years, DigitalMe has developed extensive experience creating bespoke digital Open Badge programmes and technology systems.
  1. For more information contact RSA Head of Media and Communications Paul Duffy on 020 7451 6893 / 07799 737 970 or [email protected] 


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