Our skills are developed and accumulated in several ways throughout our lifetime. Some are developed from our formal education and training, others through working and non-informal learning.

The importance of non-formal learning is often overlooked by both individuals and employers as there is no comprehensive process in capturing and expressing the skills acquired by this form of learning. However, this is changing with the introduction of digital badges and the support of organisations such as local councils in becoming Cities of Learning.

The purpose of this article is to introduce you to the concept and application of digital badges in non-formal learning environments. It introduces you to the badging standard and the Cities of Learning programme.

What is non-formal learning?

Educational systems exist to promote formal learning, which follows a syllabus and learning is the goal of all the activities learners engage in. Learning outcomes are then measured by tests and other forms of assessment.

However, there is another way to learn. Non-formal learning takes place outside formal learning environments but within an organisational framework. It arises from the learner’s desire to master a particular activity, skill, or area of knowledge. Generally, it needn’t follow a formal syllabus or be governed by external accreditation and assessment.

This type of learning typically takes place in community settings. For example, swimming classes for small children, sports clubs of various kinds for all ages, reading groups, debating societies, amateur choirs, and orchestras, and so on.

Non-formal learning is a great way for individuals to develop their skills and build their confidence. Currently, there are schemes such as the AQA Unit Award Scheme (UAS) that allows the learner to get a certificate when they have completed the unit they have embarked on.  The units are set at different levels, from pre-entry level to level 2. Another way to award individuals learning non-formally is through the Badge Nation digital badge scheme.

Badge Nation

Badge Nation is a not-for-profit organisation, working in partnership with a range of organisations across industries and sectors, to better champion skills, experience, and learning. 

The scheme involves member organisations to create bespoke digital badges to acknowledge and reward the achievements of their staff, team, learners, or volunteers, both within and outside their organisations. It is a great and simple way for individuals to understand what skills they have acquired through their non-formal learning.  In addition, their achievements can be incorporated into their C.V and be recognised by their current and potential employers.

The badges are created in accordance with the Cities of Learning Standard developed by the Royal Society Arts (RSA) and endorsed by City and Guilds. 

Badge Nation is responsible for the training of the badge designer, quality assurance and publishing of the badge.  It charges a small fee for this service.

Cities of Learning Standard

Organisations issuing the badges are conscious of what their learners want to achieve (their goal) and thus create pathways to help them.  This involves designing the badges to meet their goal based on the Cities of Learning standard.

This badging standard has four layers, each with a specific purpose:

  • Engage - this shows that a learner has gathered information and experienced a topic. For example, they attended a careers fair, exhibition, or an open day.
  • Participate - this shows that a learner has interacted with learning and joined in. For example, they attended a workshop, training, or club.
  • Demonstrate - this shows that a learner has applied knowledge in a real-world environment to gain experience and get feedback. For example, they took part in a competition, work experience or project.
  • Lead - this shows that a learner has embedded knowledge in different contexts and influenced others. For example, they joined an ambassador or leadership programme.

Associated with the badge is a list of skills which the learners will acquire, when they complete the tasks and meet the criteria for the badge.

Cities of Learning Programme

This programme is for cities and regions that are committed to lifelong learning.  It provides them with a framework to transform their learning ecosystem and build the skills needed for its people, employers, and community to thrive.

Cities and regions participating this programme are:

  • Brighton
  • Plymouth
  • Southampton
  • Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
  • Belfast
  • Bradford
  • Tess Valley.
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