Cities of Learning as a learning ecosystem

Special Focus : Learning Ecosystems: A New Paradigm in the Learning Experience
Learning Ecosystems and Leadership June 21, 2021

“Learning in a fun way, without pressure and at a place and time that is suitable for me” is a sentiment I often see in young people I work with. Learning should be fun and connected with your interests and passions, right? And what if you could arrange your own learning like you arrange a personal musical playlist? A “place” where you can choose a specific ‘thing’ to learn and arrange it as a personal learning playlist that follows your interest and connects you to like-minded people. And what if the learning, while you are having “fun”, is recognized by your peers, your teacher or a future employer? 

Mapping learning activities and its recognition in one global platform

The multilingual Cities of Learning platform has been developed to map all the learning opportunities available in a community to make it intuitive and fun to find learning activities that are nearby and which can be found via interests or skills development search options. Several online or hybrid learning activities connected by locale can be combined into a Learning Playlist, a flexible learning pathway that allows for a more comprehensive educational experience. Learning Playlists are usually created based on something that a group or learners are interested in or wish to learn (often both!). It can be built around an objective, theme, event, or a national campaign. For example, a learning playlist could be implemented by a museum that would “digitalize” its exposition through the use of QR codes or AR technology, expanding the accessibility of its learning potential. 

Successfully completing each activity awards the learner with a digital Open Badge which can then be used for career development and self-promotion and recognition. An Open Badge is a micro-credential that can showcase e.g. on-boarding, participation, skills, behavior, experiences, motivation, membership, a learning achievement or just having fun. All of the data collected during the learning process is attached to it. The growing use of micro-credentials, in general, is an outcome of the need to have education more inclusive and of changing the nature of the labor market. “Jobs for life” is a concept that is increasingly outdated in today’s world. Employers demand flexibility, transferable skills and novel approaches. Open Badges cover these needs in a dynamic job market by offering a more dynamic alternative to other, more rigid modes of accreditation. As a ground for the recognition, Open Badges can be stored in an individual online portfolio that is available on the platform. A person can share his or her badges and portfolio through social media, bolster their CV with them or print them.

The Cities of Learning Platform

Cities of Learning platforms are currently available in more than 32 cities around the globe. Each city is developing its own learning ecosystem, based on the needs of the community. An ideal City of Learning is a community where people, processes, resources are combined and connected to create the most suitable learning opportunities for the individuals and groups of people connected within that community. Where learners, organizations, businesses, education, municipalities and all other actors in that community can learn from each other and strengthen each other. 

In my home country of the Netherlands, for example, there are four Cities of Learning – each of them is distinct in its approach to the concept, available resources and the benefits it provides to its respective community. The uniqueness is further accentuated by the different types of organizations responsible for bringing the project to life. Rotterdam and Breda, for example, are both focussing on skills for work pathways but for different target groups. 

In Breda target groups are especially young people and migrants with no start-qualification and people on social welfare who are “out of touch” with the labor market. Through a work and learn system they receive employability coaching and working teams to build a wide range of soft and hard skills crucial in the 21st century such as 21st century and entrepreneurial skills. In Rotterdam the main target group are people separated from the labor market and no suitable start qualification, building on resilience and a healthier lifestyle through soft skills. 

Tilburg is offering learning playlists to raise awareness on mental health amongst the youth. One example of a Learning Playlist is ‘Ik ben onvolmaakt gelukt’ (I’m imperfect), created by a  Social Work major under the supervision of the non-formal youth work organization Breakthrough Foundation. Using a hybrid learning methodology, young people learn to cope better with stress and pressure they experience informal learning. The island of Curacao is working towards being an “Island of Learning” that will support artists and creators in fostering an entrepreneurial mindset. 

Developing a City of Learning

If you want to develop a Cities of Learning approach, here is what our StarterKit package will tell you:

  • Establish priorities, agree locally relevant sectors and skill domains, map learning opportunities across territory by involving ​relevant stakeholders.
  • Have confidence to connect with others, don’t do it on your own, create your learning community and grow together. Very often organizations have similar aims for specific target groups, so strengthening each other by combining learning activities makes sense.
  • Define priorities and the design of learning programs by collecting learner insights and analyzing them to generate valuable insights.
  • When designing a learning playlist it is important to define the outcomes and impact that you want to generate. 
  • We find it important that you test a playlist with a small group of people to check if the purpose is clear, if the right resources are chosen, and if the settings in the learning playlists are all like you wish. From testing you learn a lot for development of future playlists. 
  • Decide if you want to include an assessment. We see that users of the open badge often feel that a badge with some sort of verification is more valid. 
  • The Cities of Learning platform automatically generates a badge, here we often include the competence framework that connects with the skill or the work branch to support readers of the badge to better understand the work done by earners and where it connects with what for example an employer wants to read in a badge.


The capacity for change of the Cities of Learning continues to grow with an open mind, connection and curiosity. Give it a go and become part of it.