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Blockchain revolution in education and lifelong learning

By Don Tapscott and Alex Kaplan

Blockchain, identity, and student records

Today’s society—or at least today’s employers, including governments—values academic credentials as exemplars of mastery of skills. As long as students are willing to pay more for recognized and highly ranked brand names on their diplomas rather than pursue alternatives, then the well-known college or university will remain a gatekeeper to opportunity.

The credentials and even the prestige of education institutions are rooted in the perceived effectiveness of the learning institution. Increasingly, employees are evaluating companies on their ability to provide high quality learning experiences. If colleges, universities, and employers come to be seen as places where learning is inferior to other models or, worse, as places where learning is restricted and stifled, then the role of the campus experience, the desirability of the job, and the value of the credential itself will be undermined. Attending the wrong college or picking the wrong employer is too costly.

So what counts as a credential? What counts as a quality postsecondary credential? Who defines quality and how? What counts as an education institution? All of these questions become more relevant in the education space as blockchain takes over.

“Today you need an organization with endowed rights to provide you with an identity,” said Carlos Moreira of WISeKey. This process of identity usually begins with a birth certificate issued by the state, with information from a licensed medical professional. From that day forward, human beings generate personal data through every stage of life. All of this will be in analog form, usually handwritten. Blockchain can be programmed to record virtually everything of value and importance to a person’s life. This is a huge opportunity, and it presents three primary challenges.

  1. Privacy: The first challenge is to maintain the privacy and security of individuals’ data. The blockchain protects data by using public key infrastructure (PKI) for establishing a secure platform. PKI is an advanced form of asymmetric cryptography. Users get two keys that don’t perform the same function: one is for encryption and the other for decryption— hence, they are asymmetric.
  2. Validity: The second challenge to address is validity. At a time when information is abundant, fleeting, and mutable, employers place more importance on verifying job prospects’ claims. CareerBuilder reported in 2014 that 57 percent of job applicants had been caught embellishing their skills set, 33 percent had lied about their academic degree, and 31.1 percent of employers had either rescinded a job offer or fired an employee for falsely representing their credentials. Unsurprisingly, therefore, employers want to see official education transcripts.
  3. Time: The third challenge to address is time. In the United States, only 25 percent of students attend college full-time at residential campuses. The rest are juggling work and family. These part-time students take twice as long to graduate, and only one-quarter of them actually earn a degree. Open Badges, Blockchain Certificates, and Learning is Earning 2026 are some of the initiatives exploring ways to credential students for everything they learn, no matter the setting.

As more schools, universities, and employers use information beyond grades and assessments for predictive decision-making, student privacy is increasingly vulnerable to invasion. Stopping this intrusion is what blockchain seeks to achieve. Education providers that embrace the new models become more effective learning environments and more desirable places.

Computer-based learning, for instance, can free up intellectual capital—on the part of both professors and students—for more on-campus time for thinking, inquiring, and challenging each other, rather than just absorbing information.

Blockchain and the new pedagogy

Conditional training and reinforcements recorded on blockchain technology will change the marketplace for education technology. Going forward, a key step in modern education will be issuing tokens as rewards.

Noan Fesnoux, green studies teacher at Green School Bali, has used bitcoin, dogecoin, and the blockchain to teach students as young as ten years old about environmental sustainability. He believes that blockchain technology would be an immensely useful tool in rethinking college internships. For example, Green School is continuously pairing up students with mentors who are professionals in their field. Through the blockchain, mentors could validate and reinforce learning as well as recommend students for other opportunities based on their set of skills. Students could collect their records of experience, which would have immense value in applying for apprenticeships or other internships.

Another area in dire need is preparing the workforce for the future. Currently, continuing professional development (CPD) is difficult to deliver, often fragmented, poorly tracked, and misaligned with jobs of the future.

With blockchain, we are able to incorporate CPD data from conference attendance, courses, internships, work experience, and other kinds of alternative learning. We can also use that information to create high fidelity pathways aligning our experiences and skills with opportunities of the future, and the proper path for employees to follow to be prepared.

This is an extract from “Blockchain revolution in education and lifelong learning”.