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 Richard Maaghul, founder and CEO of ODEM, 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 ODEM? Why and how did you begin?
RM: Years ago, while traveling in Indonesia, I met a young boy that desperately wanted to continue his education. Not only did he want access to higher learning, but he wanted to attend Harvard. The financial barriers of the traditional education system, along with geographical challenges, would make that dream next to impossible. From that point on, I knew a revolution in education was due — technology can remove these kinds of barriers.
I’ve been inspired by the life-changing effects of higher learning for a long time, having focused a significant part of my career on delivering impactful educational experiences to students and professionals. Since I first became involved with the industry, I’ve seen the internet dramatically change the way that we learn. But, despite these generally positive changes, I’ve noticed that the flawed infrastructure that supports the ecosystem of education and employment has stayed the same. The education industry remains a wild west for middlemen, lining the pockets of the powerful rather than putting who really matters first: the student.
In order to make education better and fairer, higher learning has needed to adapt. So, we developed ODEM to directly connect students with educators in the first-of-its-kind decentralized marketplace that champions customized learning experiences. We discovered that by providing students with personalized education, we could give them far greater autonomy and truly prepare them for success in the workforce. And, unlike other digital solutions before us, we saw the blockchain as being the cornerstone to making this technology work in a seamless fashion.
2. Please describe your use case and how ODEM uses blockchain:
RM: We built ODEM on the Ethereum blockchain because it offers a way of making higher learning more accessible, affordable, verifiable and transferable on a global scale. Blockchain technology does this by providing a decentralized network where students and educators can make direct connections, without the fees and fuss of the middlemen, in an international marketplace. In doing so, we can give students and educators greater autonomy and control over the education they receive and give, as they can work together to produce personalized courses that suit the student: whether that’s regarding the course material or where the course is actually taking place.
Additionally, blockchain technology allows students to have total ownership over their educational records and credentials. These records remain available at the click of a finger, so they never need to wait (or pay) for documents like academic transcripts or certificates of achievement ever again. Students and educators alike also enjoy other benefits of this technology, including the use of smart contracts that self-administer and automatic payment solutions that save time and cut fees. Additionally, all ODEM Educators’ qualifications and capabilities are verified on the blockchain too, so that ODEM Students can trust that they’re receiving an exceptional education.
3. Could you share a specific customer/user that benefits from what you offer? What has your service done for them?
RM: The ODEM Marketplace provides value to all users within the education and employment ecosystem, but to give a specific example, last spring we partnered with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Alberta, Canada to make it possible for graduates to record their education credentials on the public Ethereum blockchain. Digital ownership is a crucial aspect of having control over one’s education, and we’ve seen over 4,800 SAIT grads continue to benefit from using ODEM to secure their certificates on the blockchain for easy validation, verification, and transferability. It’s a proud moment for us.
4. What other blockchain use cases in the education industry are you excited about?
RM: We’re looking forward to products like MetaMask’s mobile decentralized application (DApp), which will give our users the ability to access ODEM from their smartphones. This usability will bring ODEM to many more users, which is incredibly exciting for the future of education.
We’re also excited about other blockchain advancements that will have big knock-on effects in education. The higher adoption of cryptocurrencies will give the unbanked far greater exposure to education, giving would-be students around the world access to an unbiased financial system that gives them access to the education they deserve. This kind of inclusion will bring many more people into the education ecosystem and serve as a global equalizer.
5. Where will ODEM be in 5 years?
RM: ODEM will continue to be a thriving marketplace, empowering students to take control of their education and making it easier and faster for employers to hire. We see our use of blockchain technology as key to this, making education and employment more transparent, affordable, accessible and verifiable for everyone.
In five years, the blockchain will have evolved significantly, with greater development of infrastructure for even faster connections, simpler integration and easier user experiences. Claiming education records on the blockchain will be the prevalent method of proving one’s experience and knowledge, building much-needed security and immutability into education.
As the first of its kind, the ODEM Marketplace has already attracted over 6,000 students from all over the world and educators from top institutions like Stanford and the University of Geneva. These students are already taking control of their future and staying ahead of the curve, and we can’t wait for thousands more to join them. We have a clear vision for how the blockchain will continue to transform today’s inefficient education industry, and couldn’t be more excited to bring its benefits to the world.