The Role of Blockchain in Learning

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The past few years have seen two terms being used by everyone in technology across industries: these are – ‘Blockchain’ and ‘Cryptocurrency’. Blockchain was originally conceived and released to the public in 2008 by an individual going with the name Satoshi Nakomoto to serve as the public transaction ledger of Bitcoin one of the earliest cryptocurrencies. Today, blockchain as a technology is evolving at breakneck speed. It is being used in a wide variety of industries like banking, hospitality, healthcare, and public service projects.

What is Blockchain?

Blockchain is defined as – “A decentralized, distributed and public digital ledger that is used to record transactions across many computers so that any involved record cannot be altered retroactively, without the alteration of all subsequent blocks.”

A simpler definition in easy to understand terms – A blockchain is, well, a chain of blocks. It’s a method for sharing a record of an online transaction in a secure and trustworthy way that allows both parties to have a copy of that record without either party having to maintain that record.”

How Do Blockchains Work?

An easier way to understand how blockchains work is to study the operational structure of Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a free, decentralized online encyclopedia, which is open to the public. There are no restrictions on viewing content. Similarly, anyone with a working Internet connection can update or edit a Wikipedia page, with all edits being transparently recorded and visible to the public. In this manner, Blockchain technology is accessible to the public and basic transaction details can be viewed by everyone.      

Here’s an illustration, courtesy of IBM that explains how blockchain works:

IBM

Do you still have some questions? See the video below, which offers a clear and lucid introduction to Blockchain Technology.  

You may be wondering why a blog on eLearning is suddenly featuring content on Blockchain that’s primarily related to the banking and finance industry?

Based on how attuned you are to the developments in the learning industry, you would be pleased to know that Blockchain is being used in learning, especially in higher education in several universities globally. The aim of this blog post is to list down some key examples of Blockchain being used in different industries, its current role in eLearning, and what the future holds in terms of the role of blockchain in L&D.

Blockchain in Higher Education

Academic records and digital badges – Blockchain can play a significant role in ensuring that credentials of students as well as professors are accurate, genuine, and updated as and when individuals acquire new competencies and skills. Listed below are some examples of blockchain currently in use in higher education.

MIT Media Lab and Learning Machine have developed an open standard, Blockcerts, for issuing and verifying credentials. The goal of Blockcerts is to avoid a standards war that could force educational institutions and other organizations into using specific vendors and their proprietary standards.

The State University of New York (SUNY) aggregates learning resources of its constituent universities and allied institutions using technology based on Blockchain’s peer-to-peer technology.

San Jose State University is a leader in the ‘Library 2.0 movement’ and is using blockchain to manage its libraries in a more efficient manner. This covers areas like listing down of physical and digital books and manuscripts, authenticating library-members, and following up with members to return books on time with automated reminders.

Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque last year began issuing “student-owned digital credentials” on a blockchain platform that the college plans to make available to other educational institutions in the state.

Assorted Examples from Various Industries

Some of the well-known banks which are using blockchain-based solutions are – ALFA Bank from Russia, Yes Bank from India, UOB (United Overseas Bank) from Singapore, CommonWealth Bank from Australia, and LatiPay from New Zealand. Access this link to see a comprehensive list of over 200 banks globally who use blockchain technology.

Medicalchain uses blockchain technology to securely store health records. Doctors, patients, health insurers, and employers can request permission to access a patient’s record to serve their purpose and record transactions on the distributed ledger. The platform is built to securely store and share electronic health records.  

OriginTrail uses open-source protocol and decentralized network for the purpose of bringing transparency to international supply chains.

De Beers is a trusted name in diamonds that mines, trades and markets more than 30% of the world’s supply of diamonds. The company plans to use a blockchain ledger for tracing diamonds from the mine to the customer purchase. This transparency will help the industry and anybody who wishes to verify and confirm that diamonds are free from conflict.

Looking for more examples of blockchain in actual use?

Please read this article published on 101 Blockchains for more information.

Blockchain in eLearning

Credentials and Digital Badges

One of the most important uses of blockchain in eLearning is to issue digital badges and certificates that are secure, can be verified with ease, and easily displayed on one’s digital portfolios. Accredible was established in 2013 and is the official certification partner for top brands like Rosetta Stone, Google, Udacity, Kaplan University, and Hootsuite. Accredible ensures paperless, one-click verification of digital credentials and offers integration with several popular digital tools and systems.

Edgecoin is another company in the same space that offers smart certificates and digital credentials based on blockchain technology. Edgecoin gives institutions a secure web-based dashboard that allows them to create, manage, and issue blockchain-based credentials like transcripts, diplomas, marksheets, and certificates.

Cryptocurrency for Rewards

How does one reward the learner? As technologies evolve, using cryptocurrency to reward learners for completing programs is an interesting new way to encourage learners to complete programs faster. A solution like BitRewards makes this process simpler and efficient.

Blockchain-Based Learning Platforms

According to a report by Research and Markets, the global private tutoring market is forecast to grow at a compound annual rate of 6.7 percent between 2016 and 2020. NTOK is a blockchain-based learning platform that brings together tutors and students on one integrated digital platform. Boasting a high-quality online learning environment with certified and reputed teachers, NTOK uses blockchain to build and deploy the platform. New Tokens of Knowledge (NTOK), on the Ethereum Blockchain, will be used for payment on the platform. NTOK was part of Tutor Ninja, in 2018, Tutor Ninja raised US $15 million by selling NTOK.

What the Future Holds?

In September 2017, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission released a study that assessed the potential of using blockchain technology in education. Currently, organizations are using blockchain primarily to issue and store credentials and certificates that can be verified easily. Other scenarios wherein blockchain can prove useful are:

  • Transferring credits between educational institutions
  • Accessing these credits to assess the skills of future employees
  • Using blockchain to ascertain the validity and genuineness of accreditations
  • Collaborating on a blockchain-based platform to share and update learning content
  • Validating transactions and payments for content services rendered by individuals and organizations

As you have observed from the paragraphs above, blockchain is still evolving and the scope for its application and uses in industries beyond banking, logistics, and manufacturing are limited. Looking beyond digital certificates and cryptocurrency for rewards, blockchain has a lot more to offer to the eLearning industry.

I would like to quote a small paragraph from an article by Donald Clark published in ‘oeb Insights’.

“Blockchain could be used for a myriad of learning experiences from various sources. It requires a small transaction model, and this could be where ‘eXperience API’ (xAPI), which can be used to gather evidence from micro-learning experiences, comes in handy. It is open source, the natural successor to SCORM, and stores data in Learning Record Stores. This seems like a natural route to the use of blockchain.”

Entire learning ecosystems can be built using blockchain. We have seen the blockchain smartphone from HTC called Exodus 1. Sirin Labs has its own proprietary operating system for blockchain called SirinOS and a powerful blockchain smartphone called Finney. We are not very far from the day when some tech-company unveils a blockchain-powered learning management system. It would be a game-changer and a step forward towards a secure learning ecosystem. Resistance to change as a cultural deterrent is perhaps a key reason why we have not seen a blockchain-based LMS yet.

What are your thoughts on blockchain impacting eLearning?

References:

https://www.lykke.com/city/blog/2018-10-how-blockchain-works

https://www.ibm.com/cloud/garage/architectures/banking-and-financial-markets-industry/blockchain_finance_credit

https://www.forbes.com/sites/oracle/2019/01/02/5-ways-blockchain-is-revolutionizing-higher-education/#19a79b987c41

https://www.geekwire.com/2017/blockchain-geekwires-guide-game-changing-technology-vast-potential/

https://101blockchains.com/blockchain-applications/

https://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/2563/buzzword-decoder-how-blockchain-affects-elearning

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/10/23/htc-launches-blockchain-phone-exodus-1-to-be-sold-in-cryptocurrency.html https://oeb.global/oeb-insights/10-ways-blockchain-could-be-used-in-education/

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