Preparing for hybrid schools and jobs

By Alexandra Whittington, researcher at Fast Future and adjunct lecturer at the University of Houston

KnowledgeWorks launched its official blockchain paper, “Learning on the Block: Could Smart Transactional Models Help Power Personalized Learning?” This post is part of an ongoing series exploring blockchain and education.

One of the ideas I’m hearing a lot about lately concerns hybrids. As a futurist, this is nothing new; hybrid cars, hybrid life forms and hybrid foods are regular topics of conversation for us. But instead of genetic or technological hybrids, the term that grabbed my attention is “hybrid job.” This sociological chimera, the hybrid job, is expected to go mainstream in 2016, and we will begin to understand how “being good at just one thing is no longer enough.”

In education, providing the basis for such versatility should be embraced. Not because education is ultimately a worker factory cranking out nameless future employees, but because we need to provide students an education that allows them to draw connections and see interrelations. They need to be hybrid thinkers. The need for different outcomes calls for a different approach to teaching, then, such as what HBR described as a “hybrid education.” Learning just one thing is no longer enough.

To invoke yet another buzzword of 2016

We are about to witness the rise of the blockchain technology, which could have a part to play in the hybridization of students and workers. Best known as the public ledger that makes bitcoin work, blockchain is becoming recognized for its numerous possibilities beyond virtual currency.

I explored these ideas in a chapter I coauthored with Rohit Talwar in The Future of Business. As a technology, blockchain involves networks of computers seeking consensus; it’s a type of crowdsourcing that avoids corruption by distributing authority. Essentially, blockchain provides conditions needed to get at various facts or pieces of truth, without layers of social institutions (bureaucracies, banks, judges) becoming involved.

Blockchain is a truth machine.

While there are all kinds of middlemen to be cut out by the blockchain, one idea we came across in our research is that blockchain could track and verify educational credentials. In a future that favors hybrid skills and knowledge, this function would be useful: college applications, credit transfers, recruitment, hiring, promotion and training could all benefit from a streamlined system that eliminates fraud and, even better, forms a complete picture of the individual.

While this possibility doesn’t address the challenge of what a hybrid worker looks like, or how hybrid education should be structured, blockchain does offer a platform to provide a form of proof that people are who they say they are and know what they say they know. It also reduces the need for authorities to ascertain the validity of those claims. Another angle is that diverse hybrid skill sets will be built of traits that don’t have grounding in formal schooling (for example, “good friend” or “introvert”), and we need a way to legitimize them and communicate them publicly, anyway — could blockchain do that?

A future with ambiguously defined social roles such as “hybrid job” and “hybrid education” will require a strong foundation for agreement about identity and truth, and that’s why I think blockchain could play a key role in a hybrid future: it’s a truth machine.


Alexandra Whittington is researcher at Fast Future and an adjunct lecturer at the University of Houston. Her courses and studies explore the impact of technology on society and the future of human ecosystems. Alexandra has authored and coauthored articles for “The Future of Business,” The Futurist, Futures and The Journal of Futures Studies on topics ranging from blockchain, mobile technology, education and travel, to the future of breastfeeding. She can be contacted at alwhittington@uh.edu.

KnowledgeWorks recently launched a paper that explores the future of blockchain and learning. To download your free copy of “Learning on the Block: Could Smart Transactional Models Help Power Personalized Learning?,” click here.