Decentralizing Education via the Blockchain

Figure: The process of generating Smart Blockchain Badges by matching the learner’s skills with job offerings.

Today’s centralized education model is no longer sustainable, as learning happens increasingly outside the brick-and-mortar lecture halls of schools, colleges, and universities, in online platforms within communities of like-minded individuals. In the networked, digitally empowered world of the 21st century, education providers often do not have remit or the means and capacity to cover the range of activities learners engage with, which attest their achievements, knowledge, and skills.

We envision a decentralized education model in which the awarding and validation of qualifications no longer occur exclusively under the management of an education institution or an employer. Individual students, teachers, and peers take more ownership of the learning experience and its outcomes without compromising on safety, security, and accessibility.

The image below illustrates our vision of a learner-centred ecosystem of educational transactions. Within their educational context, learners create single authored or shared artefacts with their peers. At the same time, learners are enrolled on a number of courses and are making use of additional learning resources. Tutors and other teaching staff are providing informal and formal feedback as the learners complete summative and formative assessment. Central administration bodies are issuing formal certificates according to institutional processes.

blockchain scenario
Figure: vision of a learner-centred ecosystem of educational transactions

On top of these processes, we layer a reputational ecosystem with the learner at the centre. Learners can rate courses, online resources and teachers in terms of ease of understanding and attributes related to their specific learning goals. Learners can also rate each other on a range of qualities including, for example, organisational and communication skills. All data about the learners’ accreditation, work, ratings, formal and informal feedback are stored within a framework where everything is verifiable via the Blockchain.

At the Knowledge Media Institute of the Open University, we are experimenting with the Ethereum Blockchain platform and have been developing prototypes for various learning scenarios. One of these scenarios has to do with Smart Blockchain Badges. Smart Blockchain Badges are dynamic records of accreditation that follow the same principles as Open Badges and offer the same benefits in recording accreditation. However, the key difference and novelty of Smart Blockchain Badges lies in their dynamic features. For example, apart from just recording a learning achievement, a Smart Blockchain Badge can also offer job or course recommendations. These dynamic features are implemented in the Blockchain as Smart Contracts.

To better describe our approach, let’s consider Michelle, a learner who is looking to expand her knowledge in data science. Michelle has enrolled to a number of courses offered online, including Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), Open Educational Resources (OERs), as well as online paid courses. Each time she completes a course, she earns a Smart Blockchain Badge. These badges are stored on the Blockchain and include data about the skills that Michelle has acquired.

Caption: Open Blockchain – Student Browser Demo, https://blockchain.open.ac.uk/blckchn-data/themes/blockchain/assets/movies/course-jobs2.mp4

After studying for several months, Michelle has mastered some basic data science skills, including various computer science topics such as databases. Based on these skills, the Smart Blockchain Badges generate recommendations about jobs that may be suitable for Michelle. As shown in the above video, Michelle is getting recommendations about jobs that fully match her skills, as well as about jobs that match her skills partially. Michelle may also filter the job recommendations according to the location of the job, via the map view shown in the video.

Michelle is interested in one of the jobs that matches her skills partially. She then receives recommendations about courses that will give her the additional skills required for this job. By using this Blockchain-based infrastructure to support her in her studies, Michelle can adopt a more efficient and targeted approach to learning, towards achieving her desired career trajectory.

Blockchain technology offers several opportunities for decentralizing education. For more information about our current and future work, you may visit our Open Blockchain project website and watch our demo movies or read our publications. Your comments and suggestions are very welcome!

References

Mikroyannidis, A., Domingue, J., Bachler, M. and Quick, K. (2018) Smart Blockchain Badges for Data Science Education IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), San Jose, California, USA, IEEE Education Society Publications.

Mikroyannidis, A., Domingue, J., Bachler, M. and Quick, K. (2018) A Learner-Centred Approach for Lifelong Learning Powered by the Blockchain EdMedia: World Conference on Educational Media and Technology, Amsterdam, Netherlands, pp. 1403-1408, Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).


DOI: 10.25815/j9cs-k444

Citation format: The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition

Mikroyannidis, Alexander. ‘Decentralizing Education via the Blockchain’, 2018. https://doi.org/10.25815/J9CS-K444.


Alexander Mikroyannidis

Posted by Alexander Mikroyannidis

Researcher in Technology-Enhanced Learning #TEL at the Knowledge Media Institute of the Open University.

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