September 30, 2019 By Alex Kaplan
Fiorella Garcia
3 min read

Since the time of cave paintings and scrolls, the transformation of educating and learning is one of the greatest measures of societal evolution. Still, the education sector is significantly under-digitized in comparison to other industries, with less than 3 percent of the sector’s global expenditures being contributed to technology. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) and the digitization of workplace certifications illustrate how education has started transforming itself for the 21st century.

Artificial intelligence and virtual reality re-imagine the ways we live and interact with those around us, prompting the education sector to increase investments into such new technologies. Blockchain is another such disruptor, proposing a world in which learners and educators work collaboratively instead of through a traditionally isolated approach.

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Education without borders

Barriers to education can vary from socioeconomic to even geographic. As was written in a recent study published by the IBM Institute for Business Value along with the Blockchain Research Institute, “[Blockchain] can deliver real value to the great many students and employees who can’t afford college tuition or whose cognitive or social abilities don’t ‘fit’ traditional pedagogy or whose jobs don’t allow them the freedom to learn outside their workplace.”

From our plugged-in generation, tools have emerged that enhance how we interact across industries and across the globe — websites enabling note sharing, message boards creating global discussions, and video tutorials accessible to anyone across the planet. Indeed, the age of collaboration has arrived. Now the question remains as to how to ensure this shared knowledge is accurate, measurable, and applicable to the real world.

Current global crises, such as the surge in refugees from Venezuela and Sudan, result in displaced peoples who find themselves unable to articulate and prove their skills and value to employers and others in their new host countries. Blockchain provides a trustworthy solution to the challenges of educational inequity, with initiatives underway to create digital global identities. As these initiatives mature, we are able to foresee a future where refugees and migrants whom are seeking to continue their education or find work can do so with little friction.

Giving credit where it’s due

Traditionally, knowledge is measured by centralized institutions and accreditors who assign value to the quality of a specific course or period of structured learning. These trusted agencies often rely on their brand name or the sponsorship of national agencies to retain their authority. Whereas previous generations looked to brands to determine the quality of a good or service, newer generations are opting out of a traditional 4-year degree and choosing the practical online tools available to them.

In the age of new-collar jobs and a self-service learning model, these institutional accreditors fall short. Students are becoming lifelong learners and turning to stackable credentials, the concept of building towards a degree through the accumulation of varying certifications and short-term courses. This, however, has given a rise to challenges in the tracking of disparate methods of acquiring skills. Blockchain provides a logical solution: the ability to create a detailed history of a learner’s various courses and experiences — a world ledger of educational transactions — while simultaneously ensuring these reflect the truth.

With this new way of acquiring and showcasing one’s skills, the differences between this and an education at traditional 4-year universities become less discernible. This verified, living, and diverse dossier of an individual’s learning history challenges workplaces to look past brand name education and re-evaluate how to assess and target value-add employees.

Whose data is it anyway?

An immutable, longstanding record of one’s education might make some nervous —exactly who would own, manage, and have access to this data? However, institutional use of student data is nothing novel, universities track and gather student data even before the college application process begins.

As explained in the blockchain for lifelong learning study, a blockchain-backed educational ledger would form a skills wallet, owned and managed by each individual student and be accessible via mobile devices. Any credentials earned would be stored, in detail, within this skills wallet and move with the learner through their lifelong journey, allowing them to demonstrate an accumulation of skills and not just a degree.

However, to make this type of decentralized learning ledger a reality, players in the education sector will need to join together and organize an academic utility blockchain. Tangible benefits of the blockchain will arise once government organizations, learning institutions, and learners of all kind invest time and effort into its adoption.

Blockchain allows us to envision today the education landscape of tomorrow, but the success of its implementation, including interoperability, governance, and widespread adoption, will depend on the collaboration and dedication of industry players.

Read this and other insightful reports at IBM Institute for Business Value: Blockchain.

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