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Blockchain For Education: 3 Possible Use Cases

  • 6 November 2018
  • Sam Mire

There are plenty of issues facing the global effort for education, from pre-kindergarten to PhD students. Reasonable projections show that poverty levels for public school students could reach as high as 25% in the not-too-distant future. In addition, 44 million borrowers owe a collective sum of $1.5 trillion for their student loans, and many of those former students will spend a lifetime burdened by these debts. The average student loan for the class of 2016 is $37,172. Yet the American education — once ranked best in the world — currently sits 36th in the global rankings.

While an estimated 97% of low-income students rely on their school for internet access, approximately 40 million students don’t have access to high-speed internet. But many take solace, or at least harbor hope, in the fact that many schools are attempting to adapt to new learning styles and technologies. Public schools in the United States alone spend over $3 billion per year on digital content.

These figures show that, while education in America is far from where it needs to be, a willingness to embrace technologies that may help restore its once-lauded status is there. With blockchain, schools will find applications to cut costs so that more can be spent on actual education and quality teachers. Blockchain will also assist in adding legitimacy to relatively new forms of education that are valuable and less expensive, a blessing for knowledge-hungry yet cash poor prospective learners.

Blockchain in Education - Practical use cases

Records, Certifications, and Credentials Verification

Blockchain use cases in the education industry - Records, Certifications and Credentials Verification

In 2010, a member of the U.S.-based Council for Higher Education Accreditation estimated that there are approximately 100,000 fake degrees sold annually in the U.S. alone, and that such degrees are relatively inexpensive, running around $1,000 a pop. One diploma mill called Corllins turned up 745 graduates in a LinkedIn search last year, including lawyers, teachers, engineers, government employees, and even a computer scientist and an assistant to the Deputy Secretary of State.

The government estimates that there are about 5,000 diploma mills operating within the U.S.’s borders at any given moment, and one law professor from Ohio State concluded that at least 500,000 Americans hold fake degrees. This problem is concerning, but not completely surprising nor out of the realm of understanding. With the average cost of attendance at a private university now $34,740, and even in-state schools averaging just shy of $10,000 per year, the idea of paying $1,000 for the same credentials as an actual graduate is appealing for obvious reasons. And estimates show that most have gotten ahead with their phony degree — at least for now.

Proponents of blockchain tech claim that there is an easier way for educational records to be quickly, affordably verified. Right now, the universities have complete control over a siloed system of records, but if those records could be decentralized and put in the hands of graduates to share with employers, it would represent a superior, simpler way to vet job candidates. A blockchain-enabled store of verified degrees issued by accredited universities would save employers time and money while preventing cons from skating by on a lie. 

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • IBM & Sony – Partnered to create education data storage on the blockchain.
  • LearningMachine Company helping institutions issue certificates and academic records on the blockchain. Southern New Hampshire University did an early pilot with them.
  • Blockcerts  Open standard for blockchain credentials.
  • RecordsKeeper Company using blockchain to create secure records and academic certificates.

Expanding Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

MOOCs have recently been one of the more rapidly expanding sectors of higher education, now totaling 81 million users populating 9,400 courses and working toward more than 500 credentials and roughly a dozen graduate degrees. However, programs specializing in paid customers are seeing an increase, an indication that MOOCs offer enough value compared to traditional educational paths that users are willing to pay for superior content. Coursera saw a 70% increase in paying customers in 2017, while another prominent MOOC service, Udacity, boasts 50,000 paying students. Blockchain technology could lend a measure of greater legitimacy to the many MOOC services by providing universally-accessible certifications and facilitating transactions for easier micropayments on a course-by-course basis.

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • BitDegree Free online course marketplace with a $22 million ICO.
  • ODEM – Decentralized marketplace for educational resources. 

Open Source Universities

Blockchain use cases in the education industry - Open Source Universities

The cost of a higher education in the United States has increased by 500% since 1985. In 2016, annual costs for undergraduate tuition, fees, and room and board were estimated to be $16,757 at public institutions, $43,065 at private nonprofit institutions, and $23,776 at private for-profit institutions. In concert with these, price hikes have come a spike in student loan debt to the tune of 150% in the last decade, with the U.S. total now sitting at $1.4 trillion and ever growing.

Graduates in other developed nations are not faring much better, with the per-student average loan debt in the U.K. coming in at $30,800, compared with $37,172 in the U.S. Regardless of why this is the case, the conclusion is clear: a more affordable alternative is in order. This is the primary reason that open source universities have emerged, rolling up many of the benefits of the blockchain for education into one. These open source universities typically offer a means for all of one’s education credentials to be stored, adding an air of legitimacy to more affordable, alternative means of education that still carry weight with employers. Open source universities also offer their own courses, making them a sort of one-stop shop for students at a reasonable price. By storing the certifications and credentials earned through OSUs on a unified blockchain database, credentials could become verifiable and easily accessible, reducing the sort of fraud that has riddled the traditional diploma marketplace.

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • LiveEdu Decentralized ecosystem of courses in key technology fields. Powered by a native token.
  • Gilgamesh Open source, knowledge sharing network to support participation in education.
  • Open Source UniversityDigital credentials wallet connecting learners to decentralized credentialing opportunities.
About Sam Mire

Sam is a Market Research Analyst at Disruptor Daily. He's a trained journalist with experience in the field of disruptive technology. He’s versed in the impact that blockchain technology is having on industries of today, from healthcare to cannabis. He’s written extensively on the individuals and companies shaping the future of tech, working directly with many of them to advance their vision. Sam is known for writing work that brings value to industry professionals and the generally curious – as well as an occasional smile to the face.