One of the key exponential technologies that is central in reimagining education is Blockchain. Blockchain is a complex topic that is, for the majority of people, inextricably linked to cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, but we are beginning to understand the wider possibilities that sit within adopting the use of Blockchain in an education and learning
context. The purpose of this article is to provide a brief overview of Blockchain with links to further information for those who want a deeper dive as well as sharing some initial concept thinking.
The Learning Wallet
One of the emerging projects for the schools who are members of LearnTech Lab’s SandBox Lab™ is a blockchain-based approach to capturing the learning of staff as well as students is the Learning Wallet. Whilst still at the Proof of Concept stage, the Learning Wallet is a decentralised digital learning record held on the blockchain. Anticipated outcomes of developing The Learning Wallet are:
- Enabling self-managed learning, including incidental learning, to be captured and possibly
- An approach to capturing intangible learning – so called soft skills which are teacher/tutor/peer
- A de-centralised record of
Education can be decentralised and re-balanced to include informal learning around important skills and attributes to thrive in a largely automated future, such as important 21st skills like creativity. We believe capturing and recognising this learning is every bit as important, if not more so, than current formal accreditation of learning, but has previously not been accredited.
Why are the concepts of decentralisation and recognition of intangible learning important?
Decentralisation and recognition of intangible learning
Currently, most formal learning sits with organisations as opposed to the individual who completed the learning. A personal example is when I moved to Australia, I had to apply to my University in the UK to provide the necessary recognition of what courses I had studied, my grades, and given that this was over twenty years previously, it was quite a challenge to access this information. Decentralisation means that ownership of all learning sits with the individual rather than the organisation.
In a world of increasing automation what is going to differentiate humans from robots is largely those skills which fall under the title of ‘soft skills’. As a brief aside, calling them soft skills vastly underplays their importance and we much prefer the more accurate title of ‘essential skills’, as these are the ones that are of growing importance but historically have not been ones that have been recognised, in part probably because they seem intangible to measure, and therefore accredit. Blockchain offers a great opportunity to enable these outcomes and approaches to be achieved.
For a much more comprehensive explanation on Blockchain we would encourage you to access the extensive articles and videos on this topic, such as:
If you’d like to explore this general topic more, this Futures Thinkers podcast is a good place to start: Daniel Jeffries, Pt. 1: Decentralized Governance and Identity from Future Thinkers Podcast.
In attempting to explain Blockchain 101 style we have drawn on the accessible work of Febin John James who explains it succinctly as, “Blocks of digital information connected with a chain is what makes a Blockchain. These blocks of digital information are distributed around the computers worldwide. This information once deployed cannot be altered.”
Blockchain technology, which is forecast to disrupt a wide range of industries, has taken off for two main reasons:
- It makes sensitive data simultaneously more shareable and more secure;
- It takes sensitive data out of the hands of third-party authorities and puts it back into the hands of its
Saga Briggs has written an excellent detailed article exploring the possible impact of Blockchain in education, and identifies the following main advantages:
- Self-sovereignty: this is where users can reliably identify themselves to others while maintaining control over the storage and management of their personal data;
- Trust: given the nature of blockchain, users can have more confidence in an infrastructure that securely offers transactions such as payments or the issue of certificates;
- Transparency: users can conduct interactions and transactions knowing that each party has the capacity to enter into that transaction;
- Immutability: users can be confident that records will be written and stored permanently, without the possibility of modification or loss;
- Disintermediation: enables the removal of the need for a central controlling authority to manage transactions or keep records;
- Collaboration: the ability of parties to transact directly with each other without the need for mediating third parties”
She goes onto identify the following 10 possible areas of impact:
- Disrupting the current education model
- Storing permanent records
- Identity verification and information security
- Student ownership of learning
- Interactive learning and analytics
- Automatic transfer of credits
- The “Lifelong Learning Passport”
- Copyright of educational content
- Multi-step accreditation
- Payment and funding
We would encourage you to access the article for more details on each of these areas and for an even more detailed report into Education and Blockchain the work of Grech and Camilleri for the European Commission.
Much of the thinking and writing has been on the likely impact of Blockchain on Higher Education. The purpose of The Learning Wallet is much greater than this. It is an exciting opportunity to positively impact learners of all ages to truly becoming self-leading and self- managing.
There are obviously some significant challenges to be overcome before this can be achieved, most importantly making the user interface with the technology much more user- friendly along with the need for wider acceptance of the use of Blockchain to capture, store and share credentialled learning generally. However, we also believe that ‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it’ (quote attributed to Alan Kay) and we welcome you on the journey with those schools already signed up at LearnTech Lab.
This article is a further iteration from a post written for FutureWe back in July 2018.