Can Education benefit from blockchain technology?
Uses of blockchain technology have been broadly touted to be applied across a variety of day to day activities, from financial services to transportation to health. Blockchain has the potential to fundamentally change the systems we are familiar with. Can it also be applied to educational systems? If yes, what changes could it potentially bring about?
While there are only a handful of organisations currently utilising blockchain for educational purposes, educators, students and professionals understand that education is no longer provided in a brick and mortar environment.
We have moved away from the concept of having a period in our lives dedicated to learning and another to working. We now live in the age of continuous life-long learning furthered by online courses, conferences and seminars as well as workshops and bootcamps.
We all have several certificates of attendance or qualifications lying around at home. A common worry is often that these may easily be lost. Obtaining a new copy is not always as straightforward, particularly in cases where an awarding institution ceases to exist.
The safe storage of educational records is one of the main advantages with blockchain technology. Degree and course certificates can be verified and securely kept by the user who will be in control of the documentation without the need of knocking on the institution’s door for such paperwork.
A practical use of blockchain would apply to those individuals who have had to flee their country due to a natural disaster or war. Their certifications and records kept within the blockchain would remain available and verifiable where physical documents may be destroyed, and there would be no need for institutions to initiate resource-heavy processes to confirm their validity.
Within the educational system being either universities as well as other education institutions, students need to identify themselves with several parties, with each containing information in isolated silos. This brings about a large cyber security risk for the organisation which would require significant investment in keeping information safe and secure.
Using a blockchain platform, such information can be safely shared amongst the different parties while the owner remains in control of such sensitive information. Institutions benefit too, as efforts and resources to curb breaches are no longer needed.
A further issue in education today is the transfer of course credits from one university to another. Credit transfers in the EU depends on the co-operation agreements between learning institutions, which are not always recognised by the institutions themselves. Through the use of smart contracts, such discrepancies can be avoided since once the conditions coded within the smart contract are fulfilled, course credits are automatically transferred.
Earlier on we mentioned the shift in learning patterns. Continuous learning, makes the need for blockchain technology even more pressing, allowing learning experiences to be safely stored and the records easily available. Moreover, training is instantaneously verifiable on the blockchain which allows employers to spend less time authenticating CVs.
Blockchain technology and, more specifically, cryptocurrencies have the potential to eliminate barriers faced by students whose country of origin disqualifies them from opening bank accounts. This does not mean that anti-money laundering procedures are not to be adhered to, but it would completely change the prospects of genuine individuals who seek higher education outside their countries. Governments, too, can issue scholarships at universities and monies could be released either to the student or the institution itself based on predefined criteria using smart contracts.
What advantages does it offer to educators?
Blockchain technology can help academics to publish their research on an open platform while keeping track of not only viewership but use of such research material. In the same way, educators can have quick access to information and research produced by other colleagues. Through blockchain, teachers can be rewarded based on the actual use of training or research materials provided, through the creation of a specific coin(s), which coin(s) could be attributed a monetary value.
Platforms are being created to provide educators with a flexible educational hub. Through these hubs, educators can directly connect, plan and confirm courses. Meanwhile, students will be able to place requests for specific courses to which teachers can reply directly. This can be anything from a short introductory course to a complete program of studies.
Another crucial theme for educators is Continuous Professional Development (CPD), which is often fragmented and rarely recorded in an adequate manner. A blockchain system could collate information and record attendance to CPD courses and other forms of learning while teachers and other professionals would be able to receive guidance from trusted providers. This would create a further incentive to enhance, not only the quantity of their CPD hours, but most importantly the quality. Clearly, blockchain technology has application across the whole education system. At the same time, however, the reputation of the school, college or university will still play an important part and students and educators need to go beyond the trust that is provided by the technology.
The principal obstacle to the implementation of blockchain technology not only in the educational system but in all its applications is its scalability. Whilst there are several benefits the technology does present areas of concern, namely: GDPR loss of cryptocurrencies, as well as money-laundering issues, just to mention a few. Blockchain cannot be considered in isolation and it requires a cultural shift in the way we interact with technology before we can fully embrace its potential and enjoy the benefits it brings to the learning community.