By Shantanu Rooj
The education industry is going through a process of transformation, an ecdysis – it is in the process of shedding its past to take on a completely new look. Education will no longer be a one-waytransfer of acquired information, but will transform to something that is always on, one the go, online, peer-powered, on-the-job, modular, with stackable credentials. Education institutions, particularly in higher education, are making aggressive bets to harness digital technology as a tool for transformation. Blockchain technologies present enormous opportunities to help higher education providers:they can help reduce cost and eliminate fraud, can create a compelling collaboration platform between businesses and institutions and can improve productivity and efficiency!Several pilots are currently under progress, but the possibilities are enormous! Here are 5 ways blockchain technology can be applied to higher education.
Storage of permanent records–As students pursue more mobile learning styles from global institutions, it would be imperative for Indian HEIs to bring their systems and processes to match global student expectations and ensure frictionless but secure sharing of important data. Blockchain’s distributed ledger technology and decentralized architecture, which has shown great promise in the financial sector offers the benefits of enhanced privacy and security through public key infrastructure (PKI) encryption, integrity, anonymity, transparency, and immutability. It can help reduce data management costs, solve credential verification, and enable an ecosystem to bring changes in the technology, operations and business models of higher education.
Learner identity verification–Tamper proof identity verification and management is a mammoth task for educational institutions. Most higher education institutions keep students’ completed course records in proprietary formats stored in dedicated online systems, with little or no interoperability. Using blockchain technology, learners can have control of their own data and can manage their identity online. Blockchain maintains integrity of data even in distributed peer-to-peer systems, thus obviating the need for a central authority or clearinghouse. Each student maintains his or her own information, including transactions, contracts, certifications, credentialsand identities anda blockchain protocol manages how new entries are initiated, validated, recorded and distributed.
Lifelong learning credentials–Most educational institutions follow a model in which each maintains control of their student credentials. This comes with the risk of being altered, deleted or corrupted. Blockchain provides longevity, integrity, and flexibility; records are stored permanently, so documents such as degrees and course certificates can be secured and verified.Students will have ultimate control of their data – includes certifications earned, accreditations gained and their own portfolio of work – and can provide this to anyone they wish for instant verification! With the world moving towards lifelong learning and skill integrated education, it would be important to empower learners to own, manage and share their own credentials without the need to call upon their educational institutions.
Automatic credit transfers – Transfer of credits has been another perennial challenge for institutions and students due to different standards of record storage, which can make interinstitutional record exchange difficult. This problem is even more vivid in cases when a student wants a transfer to an institution in another country where language and disparate processes can create additional barriers. Currently, credit transfers depend on institutions negotiating agreements to recognize each other’s credits subject to certain conditions, but often these agreements are often not recognized.
Intellectual property protection – Academicians regularly publish research and papers as part of their work. Under the traditional system, apart from piracy challenges, there are few ways to know if a similar academic study is under way when a professor begins his or her research. Using blockchain, academicians can publish their original content while tracking their reuse. Resultantly, teachers could be rewarded based on the level of actual use and reuse of their teaching materials and institutions could then make metrics-based decisions on which teaching materials to use. This obliviates the role of the intermediaries such as research journals, which often limit use by charging high access fees.
As an industry, higher education has enjoyed a long period of stability and steady profits; however, this is at serious risk in the face of disruptive trends like online learning, sharing economy and peer to peer learning models. Educational institutions must involve themselves early to be ready when blockchain becomes mainstream.Some are working to better understand the technology and are conducting pilot projects to target the best use cases and most likely benefits. A three-pronged approach could help them get initiated – Promote understanding amongst target stakeholders in a clear and comprehensible manner; Experiment with pilots to get an understanding of the true potential andbecome a part of the innovation process as the technology upends existing business models. Dinosaurs did not die because the world changed; they died because they refused to change! Organizations that start now to understand the technology and its value will be properly positioned to reap its operational benefits; the rest will become a case study in history!
The author is founder, CEO of TeamLease EdTech. Views are personal.