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Blockchain is perhaps best known as the technology behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. However, there are many other uses for blockchain technology.
For example, blockchain speeds up communication because it cuts out the middleman in certain transactions. In addition to money transfers, blockchain’s ability to record information can help businesses keep track of their supply chain and monitor changes almost instantaneously. Blockchain’s tamper-proof record keeping may also improve other forms of data sharing, including digital voting, property title transfers, and copyright protection.
Perhaps one of the most exciting new developments in blockchain is in education. MIT issued its first diplomas via blockchain in a 2017 pilot program, and it could drastically change the face of higher education. Meanwhile, the research and education units of Sony and Fujitsu recently revealed that they will use blockchain technology to manage course records and exam grades for Japanese language proficiency tests.
MIT’s blockchain diplomas were created in a partnership with Learning Machine, a Massachusetts tech company that created the Blockcerts Wallet app. This is more than just a digitized copy of a paper certificate. Because blockchain technology is decentralized and can’t be tampered with, diplomas are highly secure. Once they’re added to the app, students have complete control over their credentials forever. There’s no need to pay for additional transcripts for law school applications or future employers because a digital copy exists. If your paperwork is destroyed in a flood, there’s no problem: Blockchain diplomas are forever.
For employers and admissions deans, blockchain diplomas are highly desirable thanks to their tamper-proof nature. Credentials can be quickly verified, but no one can corrupt the digital file — say, to falsify a degree — without everyone in the network knowing about it. Blockchain’s decentralized security is a boon to HR departments, state licensing boards, and anyone else who needs an easy way to verify credentials.
Blockchain for university degrees is just the beginning. It’s one thing for your employer to know that you earned a bachelor’s degree in a particular subject, but imagine having each one of those courses broken down into a separate credential. This would provide real information about a potential hire’s expertise, eliminating the possibility of someone misrepresenting their skills in an interview.
The same goes for professionals who need to take additional coursework to periodically update their licensure. Instead of relying on time-consuming, expensive audits to intermittently check for fraud, state licensing boards can easily check to make sure continuing education requirements are met — and applicants never have to worry about misplacing a paper certificate or the email with a PDF again.
Even better, the ability to break down learning into discrete skills could make higher education more affordable for everyone. If blockchain allows for a more widespread embrace of credentialing via badges, job seekers can more easily tailor their education to earn the badges they actually need, instead of blindly spending money for a traditional four-year degree. For example, suppose you want to be a computer programmer. If you earn a tamperproof, universal badge in various programming languages, that may be all you need — no reason to spend extra on Medieval Icelandic Literature or Underwater Basket Weaving.
This is where blockchain could truly upend high education as we know it. Until now, there was no way to verify the coursework someone completed as part of their degree without a paper transcript. With all of that information on an app and securely stored via blockchain, it will be easier than ever to tailor your educational experience to your needs — and save thousands of dollars on that ballooning student debt.
Blockchain is misunderstood in the popular media as a risky investment in unregulated e-currency, but that’s only one small part of the story. There’s real potential for blockchain technology to make higher education more targeted and affordable, and that could democratize credentialing and make better jobs more widely available to students from all backgrounds — an unmitigated good in an often uncertain future.