How Can Blockchain Technology Support Education?

With so many blockchain applications struggling to escape the pilot stage, it’s hard to distinguish the considerable hype attached to these projects from the realistic expectations we can have for the technology.

That hasn’t stopped a growing number of efforts to project how the technology might impact various sectors however.  The latest of these comes from the European Commission, who have published a paper exploring how blockchain could impact education.

The report provides a number of case studies from European universities to support its hypothesis that blockchain can have a significant impact on education, before then providing some recommendations on how this can come about.

What can blockchain do for education?

The report identifies a number of key characteristics of the technology that they believe could be applied to education.  For instance, the immutability of entries could be used to secure digital degrees, whilst verification of one’s credentials should be easy.

It then goes on to identify various scenarios that the Commission believe could be realized in the short, medium and long term.  These include the automatic recognition of course credits, the receipt of student fees and other payments, and the verification of student identities, both within institutions (to access accommodation or the library, for instance) and when moving abroad.

So how can the EU support such developments?  What kind of regulations and standardization is required to expedite progress?  The report makes a number of recommendations for policy makers:

  • Further development of technology in the educational field should take advantage of private sector innovation while safeguarding public interest;
  • Fully-open blockchain implementations are recommended so that the real goals and promise of blockchain in education can be reached – such as recipient ownership, vendor independence and decentralised verification;
  • The EU and Member States should consider setting up a label for ‘open’ educational records, in order to support or adopt technologies which are in accordance with these goals;
  • Policymakers should set up innovation pipelines to further investigate the specific educational uses of blockchain technology;
  • Standardization will be key, so policymakers should urgently look at this area – in particular at how to establish commonly agreed digital meta-data standards for educational records and how to link these to existing course, degree or qualification certification systems;
  • An expert committee should be formed to keep policymakers informed of the latest developments;
  • Educational organisations and learners will be the main beneficiaries of the adoption of these new technologies, so outreach to help them understand these benefits is vital.

The report is interesting because it keeps the benefits of the technology in a degree of perspective rather than getting too carried away.  It will be interesting to see how effective they are at providing the kind of regulatory support the technology so urgently needs.