Of all the institutions that resist change, education is high on the list.
In fact, our basic structure has not changed since public schools were first established. Students are required to attend school up to a certain age. They are herded into classrooms with a teacher up front, and the same curriculum is delivered to all.
This does not change even when students attend college. Professor’s lecture, students take notes, coursework assignments are evaluated, along with exams, and then grades are awarded. And so it goes, on and on.
Despite the research, and despite the attempts of a few to alter the face of education, very little has changed until recently.
MOOCs have become a general term for online coursework, offered by big-name universities, for which students can enroll without acceptance to a university and often free of charge.
While actual college credit is generally not provided, there are certificates of completion which students can then include on their resumes. And employers are beginning to look at these as viable proof of knowledge and skills.
So, What Does Blockchain Have to Do with All of This?
At first glance, it is hard to envision blockchain as a disrupter in education, but consider this:
- It is most used in cryptocurrency trading, but the concept is branching out into new areas. Blockchain is a permanent ledger of activity of any kind. The activity is entered in a “block” of activity and then linked to the block before it and the block following. These blocks are verified by several people, can be made public, and are permanent – they can never be altered. In effect, a permanent digital ledger is created.
- What if all formal and informal learning could be recorded in such a ledger, so that a complete picture of anyone’s education and training activities and experiences would become part of an unchangeable ledger?
- Educational ledgers would follow individuals throughout their lives, and, because of the incorruptible nature of blockchain itself, that ledger is verifiable proof of an educational history.
- With learning occurring in the decentralized environment of blockchain, just as Bitcoin is decentralized in the financial industry, the traditional “power brokers” who have always been in control will no longer be.
But the larger disruption here is that people of all ages can choose to pursue learning on their own, bypassing traditional educational institutions. As this option continues to grow in popularity, traditional institutions will be forced to change. And it is about time.
Early and Current Examples of Disruptors
Long before blockchain technology, people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg became disenchanted with traditional schooling, dropped out, learned on their own, and built their empires.
More recently, however, others have seen the value of blockchain in recording and verifying learning records permanently. MIT, The University of Nicosia in Cyprus and the Holberton School for Software Engineering are now experimenting with the awarding of course completion certifications through blockchain technology.
There is even a new term for it – “edublocks.”
The company BitDegree.org has taken this a step further. It has seen the global potential of blockchain in education, and is spearheading a program call BitDegree. The idea is to provide incentives for individuals to enroll in courses which provide skills that are in demand. Completion of a course results in bitdegree tokens (a heavy motivator) which can be used as scholarship “money” for additional coursework. The other aspect of BitDegree is that employers can use the blockchain to find those potential employees who have verified completion of the coursework they want them to have.
In India, Unacademy, an online educational academy divorced from any institution, has just raised $11.5 million to grow its program and put great educators and students together in a collaborative e-learning environment.
How Traditional Institutions Respond May Seal Their Fate
The global nature of communication and the vast amount of knowledge and skills that can be acquired via the Internet today are leaving traditional institutions “in the dust.” And now blockchain technology could easily drive a final nail in their coffins.
Educators from the world over can collaborate with one another and with employers to provide the learning that students will need to move into great career positions. And so long as those curricular programs, and the students enrolled in them, are permanently recorded in blockchain ledgers; and as long as employers and educators continue to collaborate outside the bounds of traditional institutions, then education can finally become a 21st century phenomenon.
Traditional institutions will either buy into the new educational era or they will gradually lose their historic monopoly on granting credits and degrees that may or may not actually prepare students adequately. But either way, the winners will be students and employers.