This interview is part of our new Blockchain In Education series, where we interview the world's leading thought leaders on the front lines of the intersections between blockchain and education.
In this interview we speak with Chris Jagers, CEO Learning Machine, to understand how his company is using blockchain to transform the education business, and what the future of the industry holds.
1. What’s the story behind Blockcerts? Why and how did you begin?
CJ: Blockcerts is an open standard for creating, issuing, viewing, and verifying blockchain-anchored records. These are digital records which are cryptographically signed, tamper-evident, shareable, and registered on a blockchain for instant verification. The goal is to empower students with their records in a digital format they can easily hold on their smartphone and have verified anytime they need, such as applying for a job or subsequent education.
The initial design in 2016 was based on a collaboration between the MIT Media Lab and Learning Machine. We wanted to make sure there was a common standard for how to implement this technology in a non-proprietary way. The ongoing goal of that open-source community is to create technical resources that other developers can utilize in their own projects while enabling an interoperable future for these records.
2. Please describe your use case and how Blockcerts uses blockchain:
CJ: A Blockcert is a digital file (JSON) that is both human and machine readable. This file can visually represent any time of record, like a diploma or a transcript, and can be enriched with metadata for greater clarity. The blockchain is used like a global notary to verify that a record is authentic and hasn’t been altered since it was first issued. Rather than waiting for a school or 3rd-party software vendor to verify a record, a decentralized global network can instantly verify any Blockcert.
Blockcerts isn’t itself a blockchain, rather, it was designed to anchor/verify records using any decentralized network. These include Bitcoin, Ethereum, Hyperledger, and more. You can see a demo Blockcert here which includes a verification button. You can also try out the Blockcerts universal verifier at www.blockcerts.org by pasting a link or uploading a file.
3. Could you share a specific customer/user that benefits from what you offer? What has your service done for them?
CJ: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers digital diplomas to all of their graduates. This is an official record that can be shared online or directly with an employer. This helps the Institute promote awareness of their programs, provides a level of fraud protection for their brand, and ultimately promises to reduce the ongoing cost of verifying degrees over and over again. They have a verification portal at https://credentials.mit.edu/ where anyone can check to verify an MIT diploma.
Ultimately, their primary motivation is to help their students. MIT Registrar Mary Callahan stated:
“From the beginning, one of our primary motivations has been to empower students to be the curators of their own credentials. This pilot makes it possible for them to have ownership of their records and be able to share them in a secure way, with whomever they choose.”
4. What other blockchain education use cases are you excited about?
CJ: Blockcerts was intended for high-stakes credentials. At Learning Machine, we began by optimizing for a certificate form factor, like diplomas. Today we’re excited about launching the ability to issue digital transcripts and photo IDs later this year!
Beyond new types of records, we’re also excited to see how schools will enrich these records with data. We think there is tremendous opportunity to collaborate with employers to see what types of data they count to be important when hiring for various positions. Because Blockcerts are machine readable within applicant tracking systems and other data intensive workflows, many types of automation and organization become possible.
5. Where will Blockcerts be in five years?
CJ: While Blockcerts is still early in the adoption curve, it is rapidly gaining traction across many geographic regions. In five years, we hope that Blockcerts will have created a new normal for official records being digital, learner owned, and instantly verifiable. This is what everyone wants. We shouldn’t have to pay money and wait a long time to use our records. We should be able to develop our own lifelong record of learning from across educational institutions in a practical and verifiable digital format. Software has already streamlined most sectors, so it’s time for official records to join the 21st Century.