Could blockchain revolutionize education?
Some blockchain for education initiatives certainly think so. Universities, often the birthplaces of new ideas, are some of the organizations leading the way with this new technology.
Below, we dive into some of the most exciting possibilities for blockchain in education, and outlined them in order of fastest implementation to most revolutionary.
1. Payment via Cryptocurrency
Some universities — University of Nicosia, King’s College in New York, and Simon Fraser University in BC, to name a few — have begun to accept cryptocurrency as payment for tuition fees. Many universities accepting Bitcoin payments only do so for students enrolled in technology-related courses, which is understandable considering the extra infrastructure needed to accept this form of payment and the relatively low number of students who have paid for their tuition with Bitcoin so far.
While only 2 students at Cumbria Institute for Leadership and Sustainability have, so far, paid their tuition with Bitcoin since the option was announced in 2014, nearly 2% of the entire student body of University of Nicosia paid their tuition in Bitcoin, indicating that average college students are also slowly looking to alternative payment methods. Other schools might benefit from looking into this option in the coming years as Bitcoin prices begin to match those of college fees.
2. Certification on the Blockchain
Verifying a diploma today takes a good amount of time and requires potential employers and graduate programs to request confirmation of credentials from universities.
In response, some universities, like MIT, are experimenting with pilot programs where graduates have their diplomas available on an app built on blockchain technology. Graduates are then enabled to share their credentials with whomever they like and the diploma is indisputable because of the security and inalterability of distributed ledger technology.
MIT’s Media Lab, along with Learning Machines, developed Blockcerts, the application that the MIT pilot program uses, and aims to enable digital self-sovereignty for individuals’ records. Other applications for similar services include Gradbase and Stampery.
Fully implemented, these blockchain-based solutions would negate the need for an institution’s operational servicing power required to verify graduates’ certifications.
3. E-portfolio for all Academic Credentials
Other education initiatives are looking to take the “credentials on a blockchain” thing even further by putting a whole folder of education records on a decentralized platform.
Sony and IBM have partnered to create an educational platform to “secure and share” an unspecified amount of student records. This platform could include things beyond graduation certificates to include information like transcripts, attendance records, and more.
TEx, the University of Texas program for developing a better educational experience, is finalizing their development of ChainScript, which aims to build an immutable portfolio for each student with blockchain technology. This portfolio will include things like credits, competencies, micro-certificates, degrees, and other records of achievement. This would further cut down on the cost of verifying students’ credentials for universities.
Schools for K-12 could also benefit from this technology. Student transcripts, transfer records, school lunch, attendance, standardized testing scores, and potentially more could be put on a distributed ledger to cut down on paperwork and make school systems more efficient.
One of the challenges for putting all this information into e-portfolios and onto a distributed ledger is that information will be compiled at least slightly differently at every institution. It may be very difficult to process and compare for other educational institutions and potential employers without strict standardization guidelines brought across the entire education system for record keeping and information storage.
4. The Lifelong Learning Passport
Other initiatives look to integrate blockchain even further into education, and step one for them changing the current education system as we know it.
Open University has created Open Badges, which are tokens of achievement, affiliation, and authorization that present a more detailed picture of a person’s learning experiences throughout their life, like participation, official certification, community involvement, and other skills people develop outside of formal credentialing systems.
Open Badges can be shared in job applications and across social media and can be issued and verified by anyone with the proper profile. A list of current issuers can be found here.
Knowledge is an initiative currently in pre-ICO stages that wants to reward knowledge through a platform where users can store share their expertise and immediately reward and validate voluntary and gamified learning with knowledge tokens. Users’ knowledge and interests can then be quantified, allowing others to understand the level of veracity for any particular user’s statements.
The Ledger Project is a scenario that imagines a changed education system in the year 2026, where everything you’ve ever learned is tracked through the blockchain on “Edublocks.” Ledger wants to make it easier for potential employers to find skills matching their needs and help potential students find investors for their education.
These learning passport initiatives require wide-scale change to the education sector that may take off for some, but will likely require a lot more easing into before there’s a chance of adoption by the general populace. They are a great way to track untraditional learning outside of typical education institutions, but most employers will probably stick to resumes and CVs for a while longer.
Overall, there are a lot of different ways that blockchain technology can help bring the education sector far into the 21st century. Maybe we will end up largely skipping over the simpler certification level and jump right into e-portfolios to track credentials, or maybe the industry will need more “easing in” than that.
Whichever the case, the students using these applications will bring them into their respective industries and help pave the way for a future where blockchain-based credential systems, e-portfolios, and possibly even badge-like systems are normal things to carry out of our educational experiences.
For a more detailed analysis of blockchain’s potential in education, there is a report from the European Commission on Blockchain in Education here.