Blockchain in HE: Records Management (1)

Duan et al (2017) conceptualize a blockchain “diploma record” that would include quantitative and qualitative information on grades, progression, marks, course details, learning outcomes, and weightings. Conversion of the achievement record to job competencies would enable continuous improvement of curricula. Graduates would possess a blockchain-stored diploma that incorporates information cross-referable to an international graduate requirement index. This would enable recognition of achievement and transfer of credits, making HE records internationally transferable and recognisable.

Gräther et al (2018) propose the Blockchain for Education Platform as a solution for issuing, validating, and sharing certificates. The design incorporates smart contracts, a public storage file and a document management system. The model is essentially a digitization of existing processes with machine-readable documents. Learners manage their certificates and grant viewing permissions to third parties.

The conceptual architecture has three components: 1. document management and distributed file storage; 2. a store of the identity details of the awarding authorities, learner, certifiers, and employers; and 3. blockchain registry-residing smart contracts and document hashes. Information transfer occurs only between relevant parties, and only required information is shared (privacy being determined by the record owner). Such a platform would enable the creation of a “lifelong learning passport”.

The Institute for the Future (2017) observe that companies such as “Degreed” track online learning activity, display the record in a personal learning profile, and create “continuous learning flows” that can show articles read, participation in online courses, and performance in learning games etc. When integrated into a searchable dataset, such information becomes a “dynamic learning reputation”. Education outside traditional formats can be recorded and verified as easily as traditional certificates.

Algorithmic data sifting enables targeted marketing at a level of granularity otherwise unachievable. The use of algorithms to perform matchmaking is likely to increase: algorithms will change supply and demand, including in education.

The role of blockchain in this new digital ecosystem is pivotal. Blockchain already provides portable, trustless exchange of records across organisations and nations. Blockchain can tie documents to the accounts of verified individuals. Hashes identify a record’s owner and contributors (e.g. reference-providing academics or employers). No formal, government-issued forms of identification are necessary to prove identity. Users can acquire a provable pseudonymous identity.

The blockchain ledger would log every hour of learning as “edublocks”, which could be earned by participation in any activity with a learning dimension. Importantly, edublocks can be granted by anyone to anyone – organisations to individuals, or individuals to individuals. The edublock system potentially equalizes knowledgeable individuals and long-established institutions.

The ledger can also relate income to learning activities. Such transparency allows learners to select learning on the basis of market value.