×In summer 2014, Pittsburgh will join other Cities of Learning from across the United States in a groundbreaking initiative to pair learning opportunities for young people with digital badges in ways that allow learners to think about, pursue, and develop their interests.

The Sprout Fund invites organizations from the Pittsburgh Kids+Creativity Network, schools, libraries, museums, and other youth-serving organizations offering summer learning experiences to apply to participate in this regional effort. Learn more about the opportunity to pilot badges in Pittsburgh this summer.

At a fundamental level, how we learn hasn’t changed. We all take in and process information and create an understanding of the world from that experience. What has changed in this new digital world is the access we have to information and to the insights of others. Sitting in our bedrooms, we can learn astronomy at the side of astronomers. We can upload our own birdsong recordings to scientific databases. We can listen to a lecture from a renowned anthropologist or dive into a virtual human body for anatomy class.

Heady stuff. Yet here’s the dilemma: kids can make leaps and bounds in learning, but no one knows it. We don’t have a system, like grades or transcripts to document this unconventional learning.

“We need the credentials that make sense for the way we live our lives today,” said Erin Knight of the Badge Alliance.

“We need the credentials that make sense for the way we live our lives today.” 

The Mozilla Foundation along with HASTAC and the MacArthur Foundation are just a few of the groups helping to lead a new movement in assessment and credentialing that recognizes that kids (and adults) learn anywhere, anytime today—Digital Badges.

Badges are designed to make visible and validate learning that takes place in both formal and informal settings—from organizations to K-12 schools or libraries to museums and universities to online forums.

And it’s not just online learning. Badges can help veterans transitioning to civilian life who have skills that are in high demand, but lack needed certification.  They may also help the young internet ‘ninjas’ who are technologically fluent and self taught, but lack prestigious degrees.  Or early childhood educators who have years of experience with children, but limited formal training. Badges provide an in-depth method to demonstrate and validate these competencies in the marketplace.

“Open Badges can connect learners to better jobs and opportunities, allowing them to increase skill sets and marketability,” Knight said. “In return, employers can look beyond abstract credentials or self-reported resumes and get credible information on candidates—finding a better match, and unlocking a better future for all involved.”

Badges are housed online and are easily accessed by employers, educators, and others. They are designed by issuing organizations and each badge entails a progression of skills from introductory to expertise.

Click on a badge and the steps along the pathway to accomplishment become evident. Like a digital portfolio, Badges can also link to the learning artifacts and works produced by the Badge earner along the way.

Ultimately, badges help connect interest-driven learning, as well as new skills and literacies, to a broader system of accreditation and recognition.  They enable each learner to demonstrate what he or she is capable of, to inspire and help everyone to seek out new learning opportunities, and to share those achievements, skills, and competencies with the world.

To explore the potential promise of badges in 2014, Pittsburgh will join other Cities of Learning from across the United States in a groundbreaking initiative to pair learning opportunities for young people with digital badges in ways that allow learners to think about, pursue, and develop their interests. In Pittsburgh, The Sprout Fund will partner with members of the Kids+Creativity Network to pilot badges city-wide to enable young people to take new paths of discovery, explore the city’s rich resources, and find out what they can learn, make, do, and ultimately become. Organizations interested in participating in the pilot project are encouraged to apply by May 2nd.