City of Learning

Recognizing learning and achievement anytime, anywhere with digital badges and enriching summer experiences.

Young Naturalists spend summer outdoors learning about the environment and gaining unique work experience
Frick Park, July 2014  photo: Ben Filio

Turning the entire city into a campus for learning

From 2014 to 2016, The Sprout Fund worked with local and national partners to promote digital badges for learning. Like badges earned in scouting, digital badges recognize learning wherever and whenever it happens: in classrooms, in libraries, in city parks, and more.

Sprout led local and national conversations about this new model’s potential to transform how employers and educators recognize and reward learning. This work was closely aligned with our stewardship of the Remake Learning Network and its efforts to make remarkable learning opportunities available to all youth in the greater Pittsburgh region.

With City of Learning, our region joined a national movement to develop digital badges for learning to help young people explore their interests, develop new skills, and connect with real-world opportunities. In 2014 and 2015, Pittsburgh was one of the four vanguard cities piloting this approach, and we were one of 12 Cities of Learning nationwide using the LRNG platform in 2016.

Through this program, more than 6,000 students across Pittsburgh and Allegheny County had the opportunity to earn more than 8,000 digital badges through participating in summer programs in schools, museums, libraries, and learning spaces across the city.

To develop this new learning ecosystem, Sprout worked behind the scenes to coordinate the tools, trainings, and support that educators would need to translate their existing learning programs into the language of digital badges. We built major partnerships with regional institutions, hosted large-scale events to focus community attention on this opportunity, and developed tools and resources used in Pittsburgh and across the country.

Along the way, we enlisted the expertise of local community members, documented our work, and shared what we learned.

City of Learning

Program In Brief

Years Active


Total Investment


Funded Projects & Events


Participating Organizations


Participating Youth


Digital Badges Earned


Competencies Developed


Local Employers Engaged


What We Learned

read on


Pittsburgh City of Learning Program Recap

Looking back at how youth in Pittsburgh spent their summer 2015 learning new knowledge and skills and earning digital badges.

Funded Project Highlights

Summer Learning Partners

Sprout supported 45 summer enrichment programs in 2014 and 2015 that provided 6,000 young people the chance to explore their interests, develop new skills, and connect to real-world opportunity. We recruited a cohort of smaller-scale partners who we led through a series of trainings and engagement activities to help them develop badges to reward their students for their achievements in these organizations’ summer programs.

We also built relationships with 3 major citywide partners: our public school system, our public library system, and the local workforce investment board, which champions our region’s summer youth employment program.

Finally, Sprout hosted several community events each summer to help build awareness of innovative learning activities available to youth and families throughout the city.

Pop-Up Events

Pop-Up Events

Featuring a range of learning activities in a diversity of settings throughout the city of Pittsburgh and surrounding communities of Allegheny County, these pop-up events provided free and fun interest-driven learning opportunities to expand participation in Pittsburgh City of Learning.

Formative Research

Formative Research

University of Pittsburgh, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, and Carnegie Mellon University collaborated to understand the effectiveness of local badge programs in terms of youth participation and interest development and how practitioners overcame the challenges associated with initiating digital badges.

Badge-Enable Learning Pathways

In 2016, Sprout funded six projects that created cross-disciplinary, collaborative learning approaches called “learning pathways” during the 2016-2017 academic year. These projects empowered students to earn digital badges as they progressed through related learning activities at multiple organizations, enabling students to access new opportunities and organizations to reach new audiences.

Community Building Activities

We hosted regional events and led initiatives to engage key stakeholders in the digital badges ecosystem, helping strengthen the ties between the youth who earn badges, the educators who issues those credentials, and the employers who value the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that those badges represent.

Competencies Working Groups

The Remake Learning Competencies form the foundation of learning pathways that connect students to opportunities offered by schools, afterschool programs, cultural organizations, and online learning resources.

The competencies were developed through the active engagement of more than 100 local subject matter experts, informal and formal educators, youth workers, and program managers. Led by a team of trained facilitators, multiple meetings held in the summer and fall of 2014 harnessed the diverse knowledge and expertise of these community members.

The results were organized into centers of programmatic excellence inspired by the Pittsburgh education ecosystem.

Career Readiness

Career Readinesssave_alt

Leadership development, people skills, personal wellness, job preparation, entrepreneurship, finance, technology, and positive habits.

Coding & Gaming

Coding & Gamingsave_alt

Technical skills in computer programming and application and game development, plus creative competencies in game design, animation, and storytelling.

Design & Making

Design & Makingsave_alt

Imagining an idea, researching the user, designing a concept, choosing materials, practicing technique, fabricating prototypes, and interpreting the built environment.

Media Making

Media Makingsave_alt

Producing mass communication, including television, radio, print, digital design, imagery and video, and diverse web-based communications mechanisms.



Training in computer programming, fabrication, and electronics with design thinking, iterative problem solving, and communication.



Purposefully incorporating elements of multiple disciplines—especially in the arts and sciences—to develop learners who can address the complexity of real-world problems.

Early Childhood Education

Early Childhood Educationsave_alt

Competencies for teachers working with young children include the use of technology, activity planning, and pedagogical approaches.

Cross-Cutting Competencies

Cross-Cutting Competencies

Although developed independently, several working groups arrived at the same or similar competencies, many of which connect to 21st century learning and innovation skills.

In November 2014, Sprout hosted a large public forum to explore the potential for digital badges. The event featured a mixture of keynote remarks, panel discussions, table-based facilitation activities, science fair-style feedback stations, and an enthusiastic emcee.

Attended by more than 300 educators and 100 high school students and supported by a local team of 35 facilitators, the event helped kick off a region-wide effort to reimagine how Pittsburgh might recognize and reward learning.

In July 2015, Sprout hosted the Digital Badges Employers Forum, an event that convened representatives from more than 50 employers, government agencies, and workforce development organizations from across the region to discuss the opportunities and challenges surrounding digital badges.

This event featured panel discussions and remarks from local leaders, including Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, and participation by representatives from key national partners including the MacArthur Foundation.

Other Events & Support

To help support the educators creating and issue digital badges, Sprout also hosted periodic “reporting parties” where we invited participating educators and organizations to look back on what worked and what didn’t.

Digital Badge Lab

Digital Badge Lab

We hosted awareness-building events to conversations among badge-curious educators and provoked them to think about incorporating digital badges into their own work.



We recruited a team of “helpdesk staff” to train and offer tech support to educators from participating organizations as they developed digital badges and navigated the online badge-issuing platforms.

Research & Reporting Party

Research & Reporting Party

In addition to soliciting feedback through a survey for educators, Sprout hosted an the end-of-summer reporting party in order to capture stories from participants and celebrate partners’ work.

Related Programs

Remake Learning

Remake Learning

City of Learning leveraged the strength and enthusiastic participation of Pittsburgh’s established network of educators and innovators developing new approaches for teaching and learning.

Open Badges Summit

Open Badges Summit

Prior to beginning local badge efforts in Pittsburgh, Sprout hosted a national convening in Silicon Valley to set the course for the next evolution of Open Badges.

Digital Corps

Digital Corps

The Digital Corps was a key program partner for Pittsburgh City of Learning and issued digital badges for skills like webmaking and dispositions like collaboration.


Thank you to all those who made this program possible!


  • The Grable Foundation
  • The Hillman Foundation
  • John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation


  • Pittsburgh Public Schools
  • Partner4Work
  • Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh


  • Khalif Ali 2014-2015
  • Tim Cook 2015
  • Tricia Monticello Kievlan 2015-2016
  • Diana Avart 2015-2016
  • Dustin Stiver
  • Ryan Coon
  • Matt Hannigan
  • Mac Howison
  • Cathy Lewis Long
  • Jeremy Zerbe 2014
  • Teresa DeFlitch Pathways Summit Event Organizer