Verifiable Credentials on the Blockchain

The world needs a new system to record, house, curate, secure, and distribute evidence of learning. That new system is the global blockchain and every individual is a lifelong registrar.

The MIT Media Lab and Learning Machine have been working on a collaborative project for issuing official records to recipients, and anchoring them onto the Bitcoin blockchain. We’ve just open-sourced the first version of that project and named it Blockcerts. It allows education providers, employers, and others to issue official certificates that supply proof of membership, completion, or achievement. These certificates can be collected by individuals and shared directly with anyone who requires official documents. The Bitcoin blockchain is currently being used as the secure anchor of trust to ensure that each certificate is authentic, unchanged, and still valid. If another open, immutable data store is proven reliable — for example, Ethereum’s public blockchain — issuing to those resources can easily be included.

Our goal is to help create an entirely new environment where individuals are the custodians of their official records and can easily share those records with others.

The example below was created to illustrate how the verification process works. Ultimately this verification process wouldn’t only be a button on the certificate display, but also verifiable through independent service providers.

Official documents can be shared peer-to-peer and verified as authentic. The live example of MIT’s Media Lab certificate can be found here. All certificates are compliant with the Open Badge Initiative.

Convenience and Necessity

The current system for sharing official records is slow, complicated, expensive, and broken for everyone in a myriad of ways. Here are just a few examples:

  • Students don’t have easy access to their official records and typically have to pay money to have them shared with others.
  • Lifelong learners have no meaningful way to insert the wider array of experiences and achievements into their official academic record.
  • Displaced peoples (refugees) can lose their history and have no way of proving who they are (i.e. doctors or lawyers).
  • Employers have given up asking for transcripts to be sent (too difficult, slow, and increasingly less relevant).
  • Colleges and Universities wait too long for official documents to arrive during admissions and spend too much effort trying to connect them with the right application.

All of these problems are solved when individuals are empowered to be their own record keepers and when the database (the blockchain) is not owned by any company or government.

The concept of a comprehensive single identity is replaced by a more flexible system to confirm the relevant attributes about a person which they have chosen to share.

Lifelong Learning

The first generation of students to grow up entirely during the Internet age have started applying for college, and many admissions officers can share stories about applicants trying to text photos of their academic records. The expectation, while seemingly humorous, conveys an honest impression about the way things should work. It should be that easy for people to share certified records directly with others and have them trusted as authentic. The primary reason students aren’t trusted to handle their own official credentials is fear of fraud. However, we now have the technical infrastructure to ensure that official documents are tamper proof and therefore shareable.

Of course, learning doesn’t stop at college. People continue to learn through their life experiences, their work, and professional training. Accruing evidence of those learning experiences is just as important as tracking formal education. To help flesh out that idea, we issued every Learning Machine employee a certificate of employment.

Learning Machine certificate of employment.

Lifting the Ecosystem

No company owns this technology. The public blockchain is a global and open resource that cryptographically creates permanence, certainty, and trust. Schools, employers, vendors, and other service providers have already begun adopting and expanding this technology to create mutual convenience for everyone involved. Early adopters can download the code from Github and begin testing it. Programmers can expand the codebase with additional functionality. Software companies can integrate blockchain certification into their products to make it more usable. Imagine if all student information systems issued transcripts directly to graduates so they could use them when applying for college or employment. We’ve already started work on the first commercial integration of this technology, which will make it easier to create, manage, issue, and track the use of digital credentials.

We believe this future is inevitable and have already begun thinking through the second-order effects, particularly in regard to traditional administration. For instance, in a fractured world of proliferating micro-credentials, how are equivalencies established? What role does standardization play? How are clusters of achievements measured?

Here are some answers and related posts: