Blockchain revolution in education and lifelong learning

Blockchain is poised to disrupt the education industry, and organizations that prepare likely will lead the transformation.

Today’s Internet is great for communicating and collaborating in the classroom, but it was built for moving and storing information rather than protecting student and teacher rights and preserving value of quality content. It has done little to change how we manage academic institutions, recognize and codify skills and talent, help people manage their own pathways, fund education, or help employers manage the talent pipeline.

When professors exchange student information (e.g., e-mail, lecture notes, presentations, or an audio recording of a lecture), they are not sending the original, but merely a copy. Although it is acceptable (and indeed advantageous) for students to share lecture notes and presentation files, it shocks the ordinary senses for students to plagiarize their classmate’s homework or take tests online for their classmates. When companies issue digital badges to their employees, and those employees post them to LinkedIn, it makes us wince to see other people copy those badge images to their own LinkedIn profile and present them as authentic. Thus, with the current Internet of information, we continue to rely on powerful intermediaries such as governments, banks, and digital platforms (e.g., Amazon, eBay, Airbnb, and colleges and universities) to protect and transmit things of value. These third parties do the work of establishing our identity and vouching for our trustworthiness, and they acquire and transfer assets as well as settle transactions.

Even though these intermediaries may seem to work to our satisfaction, they have vulnerabilities and shortcomings that can hurt our data and us. They use hackable, centralized servers. They take a piece of the value pie for performing a service, such as 10 percent to send money internationally. They capture our data, not just preventing us from using it for our own benefit but often undermining our privacy. The intermediaries can be unreliable and slow.

Most problematically, they exclude two billion people who don’t have enough money to justify a bank account, let alone an education. Those two billion people can’t capture the benefits of the digital age.

With blockchain technology, digital assets—everything from money, stocks, bonds, and intellectual property to music, art, loyalty points, student records, and credentials—are not stored in a central place. They are distributed across a global ledger, using the highest level of cryptography. Transactions are posted globally across millions of computers. Blockchain technology could help improve education in a variety of ways, from making it more accessible and affordable to enhancing student privacy.

Colleges and universities have not yet lost their monopoly on academic credentialing and educational brands. But, soon, one of the blockchain-based innovators will demonstrate that its approach to learning will pay off more quickly, that employers issue and value its credentials as much if not more, and that it 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. When that happens, then rest assured: students will demand more for their money than what they are receiving from traditional educational institutions.

This paper was published in collaboration with the Blockchain Research Institute. In 2019, IT Research Finder named it the Best Free IT Report in the Blockchain category.

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Meet the authors

Alex Kaplan

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, Global Leader, Blockchain and AI for credentials, IBM Consulting

Don Tapscott

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, Executive Chairman, Blockchain Research Institute

Originally published 13 May 2019