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 Danielius Stasiulis, Co-founder of BitDegree, 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 BitDegree? why and how did you start?
DS: Many EdTechs are started by educators because of the frustration with the status quo in the field, solving one problem at a time. Our story is different. Our team comes with an internet business and technology development background. In another project, we had millions of users who needed digital skills in order to be successful, so we started looking at what we could offer. And what we found was an opportunity to build an online learning platform that would be based on the internet business logic, not the education, because the learners were underserved. So, in 2017, we have started working on BitDegree to build it with a fresh perspective – a new tech stack (notably, blockchain); new collaborative content strategy and reward models; new learning funding models, such as aligning the incentives of the employers, learners and educators; new global perspective on accessibility and affordability of education and the role of global credentials and gamification. In essence, we are focused on the needs of the learners globally, not on the improvement of existing education models. Fast forward a few years, we have completed a lot of what we wanted to build and now are testing it on 500k+ users that we currently have. Next step is really scaling BitDegree and making it serve online learners globally.
3. Please describe your use case and how BitDegree uses blockchain:
DS: BitDegree has developed a global blockchain credentialing system that can be used by online and traditional education institutions. Moreover, the system allows for transfer of economic value tied to educational achievements. This enables BitDegree to develop global frictionless crowd-sourced and collaborative educational content creation and delivery models.
As one of the use cases, BitDegree has developed BitDegree Scholarships. It is an open-source autonomous global credentials and scholarships solution that learners, educational institutions / charities and donors can use today.
BitDegree Scholarships Showcase was launched on the BitDegree Platform (520k learners) in August 2019 and has already received significant interest. Learners can already request for a micro-scholarship tied to a course on the BitDegree Platform and get it once they complete learning as proven by a blockchain certificate. Education donors can choose to sponsor individual learners with a micro-scholarship and know for sure that the learning has happened as the funds will leave the smart-contract only once the blockchain certificate was issued.
This showcase completely eliminates intermediaries from the education donations and allows for peer-to-peer donations with full transparency and traceability. The solution is autonomous and enables micro-scholarships to become a catalyst for education donations and online learning as micro-financing was to financial inclusion.
Moreover, the Showcase is focusing on re-skilling and up-skilling into digital careers, which is an enormous opportunity and a need globally in the Digital Age that has dawned on us. Donors and employers can create automated learning paths that incentivize people to learn what they need to get employed – we call it BitDegree TAP (talent acquisition platform).
3. Could you share a customer / user that benefits from what you offer? What was your service to them.?
BitDegree application 1
BitDegree has provided a micro-scholarship worth 40 USD to a student in India that was financed by a donor from the U.S that has found the student’s application on the BitDegree platform. The donor’s scholarship has not only covered the course fee but also provided a financial stipend compensating for the time spent learning that has served as an incentive to learn. The stipend was paid out only once the course was successfully completed as programmed in the smart-contract. Cryptocurrency was used to pay the course fee and the stipend directly to the student’s wallet, which wouldn’t be possible to do easily using the conventional banking system. And the student got a blockchain certificate proving his educational achievement.
Quote from the said student: “I am a second-year computer science student aiming to become an android developer. I am applying for this course because I want to complete the android development specialization that will help me get a very good job when I graduate in the next few years. But I am not really able to support my education financially. My father's income is just not enough to fulfill the basic needs of our household. Me and my family are already having a hard time paying my college fees. We don't have a stable source of income. If only there were more financial supporters like you. I am grateful that BitDegree provides such financial aids to student like me.”
BitDegree application 2 by Arjun
Process similar to the one described above is employed at BitDegree TAP. But in addition students can land jobs as they agree to be contacted by the scholarship provider in case they match the profile requirements.
4. What other blockchain use cases in education are you excited about?
- Blockchain identity profile based on educational and work achievements, micro-achievement in the future. They need to be on blockchain to be secure and global. [personal ledger of educational content – not only credentials]
- A truly global and open blockchain educational credentials proxy ecosystem (the challenge here is adoption).
- Education DAOs (distributed autonomous organizations) that organize the content creation and delivery.
- Education cooperatives (might be traditional universities) with standardized blockchain credentials that transcend state borders.
- The European ECTS credentials system getting on blockchain and becoming paperless for students who want education mobility Europe-wide.
5. Where will BitDegree be in 5 years?
Future prediction is a skill that I still have to master but let me try to estimate based on my own views (not the team’s).
BitDegree will have between 10 and 100 million users that learn on its platform in order to up-skill or re-skill into digital careers. The majority of learning paths will be crowd-sourced and crowd-maintained. The learning will be free-of-charge and learners will be paid for learning because employers will get them as talents into their recruitment pipelines. BitDegree credentials will become widely recognized and especially valuable in developing countries and the online-work world for freelancers. BitDegree credentials will be adopted by many online learning providers. Moreover, BitDegree Scholarships will be used by the offline learning institutions, mainly charities in the developing countries, who will use them to manage donations and student achievement. LinkedIn will integrate BitDegree credentials.