Will blockchain transform education?
Blockchain is one of the buzzwords of the post-COVID economy. Or, to be more specific, of the (alleged) post-COVID recovery. We'll have to wait and see how that turns out. Here's a hint: it's not looking great!
But, whatever happens, blockchain will play a central role in the economies and industries of the future, including education.
Distributed ledgers can make education more accessible, more accountable, more efficient, and even more democratic. It's already significantly impacting how students learn and schools run and deliver programmes.
How blockchain can impact education
Blockchain technology has the potential to streamline the way universities administrate courses. For example, the digital ledger can super-charge the admissions process, eliminating many overheads and streamlining procedures saving administrators time, reducing the process from months to weeks or even a few days. Moreover, the possibility of storing and accessing sensitive documents is practically limitless.
Blockchain's immutable ledger technology is ideal for verifying transcripts, diplomas, and test scores. Teachers and university administrators could also use smart contracts to assign work and deploy student loans or support payments. In addition, the digital transcripts provide a permanent record of education, skills, and certification – supporting lifelong learning.
Blockchain applications in education
In a recent report titled 'Investing in the Future of Human-centric Education', the World Economic Forum named blockchain as one of the four digital technologies central to creating a more accessible and democratic global education network. Again, that's a bold statement.
But what's the current level of blockchain adoption? Is there any evidence that this exciting-sounding technology will fulfil its great promise?
Yes, there is. There are loads of examples of how the blockchain makes education faster and more efficient, leading to better learning outcomes for students and teachers.
The University of Melbourne, ranked in the top 20 schools worldwide, is already using blockchain technology to issue and store certifications. All teaching certificates are held on an immutable distributed online ledger, providing greater security, efficiency, and accessibility.
Similar initiatives are in place at the Indian Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Maryville University, which recently became one of the first schools in the US to issue digital diplomas. Maryville Alumni can hold their education accreditations on a smartphone app and then send them to potential employers or graduate school admissions departments with a few clicks and swipes.
"Blockchain adoption in education is still in its infancy, but it's happening, and I think we're past, or at least very close to, that crucial tipping point,"
says AXD Director and edtech marketing expert Alan Davies.
"Currently, its main focus is streamlining educational admin processes and data storage. I don't think it will be long before this becomes standard practice at all the major academic organisations. Then once people feel comfortable and familiar with the technology, all the fascinating stuff will start to happen, the stuff that could transform how we deliver and even think about education."
The latest blockchain learning platforms
Let Tutor is a 1-on-1 online teaching and learning platform that removes barriers between students and educators. The Let Tutor blockchain-based ecosystem provides zoom-style private lessons with teachers from anywhere in the world and an elearning platform with video courses covering various subjects. Students receive accreditation as an NFT recorded on the Let Tutor native blockchain - see? NFTs do have some real-world applications. All payments are automated via smart contracts.
BitDegree is one of the world's first blockchain-powered online learning platforms. It offers free and paid courses covering everything you need to know about the crypto space. But let's be clear: BitDegree is not about teaching zoomers to catch that 'sick pump' and escape the wage-slave life.
There are no courses on 'mega-pumps' or 'rug-pulls.' BitDegree is a serious educational resource where young people (and the not-so-young) can develop the skills to build a career in blockchain and crypto development.
BitDegree does talk about NFTs, however. But, then again, nobody's perfect. Or maybe we shouldn't be so dismissive. Imagine trying to explain TikTok or Instagram to a teenager in the 1970s? If cat videos and photoshopped plates of sushi can capture the human imagination, maybe there's a real future in digital ownership recorded on the blockchain.
Created by a group of big brains from the MIT University Media Lab, Blockcerts uses the irreversible nature of blockchains to create an online database of academic records, transcripts, and achievements. Employers and university admissions officers can pull up records almost instantly, and the rest of us have a secure place to store essential data and "documents.' Blockcerts might not seem like the 'sexiest' blockchain application. Then again, that depends on what sort of stuff gets you going. Blockchain evangelists will love everything about Blockcerts. It's fast, secure, autonomous, decentralised, and yet 100% accessible when needed. This is what the power of the blockchain is all about.
Gilgamesh is a knowledge-sharing platform running on Ethereum smart contracts. It's an innovative blend of social media, online education, virtual community building, and gamification. Gilgamesh is a decentralised space where students, authors, teachers, and book lovers can share their thoughts on classic novels and the latest releases. They can also upload their essays or creative writings.
But here's the good part: users are rewarded for their efforts with GIL Tokens, the platform's native cryptocurrency. Gilgamesh works as a smartphone app. It includes a unique wallet for storing GIL and a social media feed full of intelligent people talking about smart things, rather than cat videos or your Uncle Steve's 'hot takes' on political events.
The future of blockchain in education
Blockchain has made the leap from a disruptive technology to mainstream adoption, and interest in the space is growing exponentially. Moreover, universities are now offering the first blockchain-based undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. We're now only a few years away from the first generation of blockchain-educated graduates entering the job market and start-up space. Exciting times.
"The number of students enrolling in blockchain courses is growing by the thousands each year,"
says Dr Jack Rogers, a senior lecturer in finance and blockchain at the University of Exeter in the UK.
"And they'll soon be leaving the universities and coming for those traditional tech jobs. I think this will be the catalyst to kick-start a wave of blockchain innovation in every sector."
What's next for blockchain and education?
One of the first things we can expect is more remote learning and a quantum leap in the quality of online education. There are almost no limits to how much data can be stored on a blockchain. Entire university courses could run on these networks, including administering accreditation exams and tests.
Streamlining the admin and admission processes and storing student records would make switching schools and courses as easy (in theory) as ordering your favourite cheat meal for Deliveroo. Blockchains could, quite literally, put students in complete charge of their learning pathways.
Combining blockchain with artificial intelligence and adaptive learning technology will continue to make modern education more student-focused. We can definitely expect to see more learning analytics platforms like Wooclap. Created by a Belgian blended learning start-up, Wooclap is a smartphone app full of fun, educational quizzes for kids.
The Wooclap app analyses test results and sends a full report to teachers with advice on which learning styles to use for each child. Parents don't need to work about keeping their children's data safe, as everything is stored and recorded on a secure blockchain. Wooclap and future apps like it can provide the kind of individualised learning approach educators have been dreaming about for years.
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