Education has gone online, and blockchain can play an important role in securing, safeguarding, and growing this trend.
Much has been written about the dramatic pivot to online learning and education that has taken place during 2020. Although the discussion and debate around virtual education has become a hot topic recently, this is not a new item; education and learning have been taking place in various virtual formats for years. COVID-19 might have turbocharged the move from physical education and learning to online formats; instead of creating a new trend, it has merely accelerated something that was already underway.
Peruse any education related site, and a primary topic will be the number of courses that will be taught online. It remains to be seen if this shift will be completely permanent, but it would not be illogical to forecast an increasing percentage of courses being taught in a virtual format going forward. With ever larger amounts of information, both institutional and individual, being stored and shared virtually over an array of networks, there will invariably be risks associated with hackers and other unethical actors.
Especially as many private organizations, either on a solo basis or in collaboration with educational partners, continue to roll out certificate programs, training opportunities, and even entire degrees in a virtual format, the risk of this information being compromised is not an abstract one. As a part of the educational or training process, there is a large amount of personally identifiable information transferred between the individual, the institution, and any number of third-party providers.
Blockchain seems almost tailor made to help secure and protect this new model of education with a combination of information security, as well as the ability to share this data among a wide network of counterparties, and to do so in a completely virtual manner. Specifically, there are a few considerations and opportunities for online educators, institutions offering education online, and private sector blockchain organizations to improve the educational process and product.
Accreditation and credentialing. Credentials are, ultimately, why many individuals engage in education in the first place, and the continued rise of online education and offerings makes obtaining credentials more convenient than ever. That very same convenience, however, also opens the door for identity theft, fraudulent “diploma mill” types of institutions, and non-accredited or non-certified offerings operating on a seemingly level playing field with accredited institutions.
Having a blockchain-based system to record the accreditation, track the changes over time, and enable the instantaneous verification of credentials and degrees delivers two distinct benefits. This increased 1) transparency, and 2) trust that blockchain-secured records would provide can help open the door to any number of new offerings and institutions. As individuals continuously need to reskill and upskill over the course of their careers, the verification and tracking of newly obtained credentials will only increase in importance.
Rationalize intellectual property. Many breakthroughs and innovations have been started by, or at least been partially affiliated with, the research and efforts undertaken by educational institutions. Professors, other educators, and individuals linked to the educational space often allocate large amounts of time and energy developing intellectual property in the form of research papers, prototype products or services, and sometimes even the creation of entire textbooks. In an economy that is increasingly a digital-first and shifting toward a digital-everything model, the importance of securing and potentially monetizing the results of these creative efforts is paramount.
Specifically, since any number of private enterprises and other non-traditional organizations are entering the educational space, creating additional revenue streams can make such efforts financially self-sustaining. A self-sustaining model helps ensure the continued production of high-quality offerings, and a return on investment that will attract capital to further develop educational products.
Reinventing higher education. One of the most prominent use cases and concepts that underpin the blockchain ecosystem is the idea of a borderless and completely open system. The free sharing of information and ensuring accessibility to this information are integral components of blockchain. By connecting these core functional components of blockchain to higher education, an entirely new educational model is possible. Since the world is becoming increasingly interconnected on a daily basis, it would make sense that education should follow suit. But how?
Blockchain-enabled smart contracts, agreements between different individuals or organizations consisting of executable programmable code, would allow education to be available on an ad hoc basis across the globe. In other words, students and instructors – including those already enrolled or associated with incumbent providers – could collaborate and work together, enabling institutions to become more flexible, responsive, and keep pace with the rapid pace of change in the economy.
Higher education and blockchain might not seem like topics that have a lot in common, but looking beneath the surface reveals just how much potential this combination has moving forward. Increased responsiveness, better transparency, and creating a new market for digital assets are just a few of the applications this combination can unlock; exciting times for sure.