Blockchain in Higher Education: The Case for Adoption

Blockchain is not a tool of pedagogy. It cannot be used to teach. Blockchain can, however, prove learning. In the blockchain educational record, HE credentials will juxtapose credentials offered by alternative organisations and expert individuals.

Blockchain and the transparency/accountability culture that it represents will have consequences for learners’ engagement and expectation. What these will be is currently unknown, but what is definite is that HE’s’ practices and philosophy must respond accordingly. The inertia of HE is attributable to tradition and the complacency that tradition engenders. Moreover, while adopting technology might be possible, the question of swiftly adapting culturally and systemically to maximise the returns of adoption poses greater challenges.

By some measures, the market value of HE credentials is declining. To address this, HE must offer cafeteria-like flexibility. Like the ancient University of Bologna, online education providers (the main competitors of HE) allow students to tailor their learning exactly to personal requirement. Unlike the ancient institutions of Europe however, the format is entirely digital so learning can be accessed at any time and paced to suit.

HE must keep abreast of the techno-social macro trends, particularly those that concern the Internet – its affordances for education and its facilitation of agile, inchoate education formats. Since its popularisation, the Internet has undergone three main phases of evolution:

1. The open web. In 1987, Brandon Stewart, the influential hacker, claimed that “information wants to be free”. This has since become the technologists’ ideology of the Internet (Bolin, 2011).

2. Web 2.0 describes where we are today: social media and commercial websites account for the majority of generalist activity. Protocols are proprietary and a small number of corporate entities dominate.

3. The near-future web, where blockchain provides information security, wrests power away from gatekeepers, and enables bidirectional transparency.

In some respects, the near-future web is reviving the freedom of the open web. The code for blockchain, for example, is free. HE must however comprehend its new place and role in a world where such technologies are available to all, and in which power is shifting away from the education supplier toward the demanding, Internet option-saturated learner-customer. Failure to evidence adaptation by adopting relevant technologies and attitudes will render HE redundant.