Harnessing the potential of blockchain to transform education

January 05, 2018

Blockchain technology can help improve old models of data management and bring benefits to learners and educational institutions in the EU - if policymakers are well prepared to embrace the change.

That's the main message of a Science for Policy report from the Joint Research Centre, the European Commission's science and knowledge service. The report highlights how blockchain technology could improve the education sector, from ushering in paperless degrees and certificates to tracking citations and protecting intellectual property.

While there are regular headlines on how blockchain could transform our daily lives, at the moment its potential application to education does not feature highly on national agendas and has not been widely explored.

Through a number of case studies at European universities, the report confirms that the relationship between blockchain and education is in its infancy and provides recommendations on how the relationship can be fostered.

The report supports the Commission's wider work on innovative education, which is pursued through policy, research, practical tools, funding opportunities and peer learning and exchange with ministries, stakeholders and experts.

How could blockchain change education?

The report explores how key characteristics of blockchain technology could be applied to specific scenarios in the education sector. For example: The report lays out a number of other specific scenarios attainable in the short, medium and long term. This includes automatic recognition and transfer of course credits, receiving payments like student fees or grant funding and using verified sovereign identities for student identification within organisations - when entering student accommodation or joining the university library, for example.

How the EU can embrace the change

For these scenarios to be realised, regulation and standardisation will determine the extent and speed of progress. The report recommends that policymakers take an open approach to this: Blockchain and employment

In a similar way to education, blockchain technology also has implications for the world of work. For example: How does blockchain technology work?

Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology and it operates in much the same way as a traditional ledger - like those used by a bank to track transactions, or a governmental organisation for keeping a record of land ownership.

The difference is that on a public blockchain, information recorded is immutable and it is shared by the whole community. In this community, each member maintains his or her own copy of the information and all members must validate any updates collectively.

The information could represent transactions, contracts, assets, identities, or practically anything else that can be described in digital form.

Entries are permanent, transparent, and searchable, which makes it possible for community members to view transaction histories in their entirety.

Each update is a new 'block' added to the end of a 'chain'.

A protocol manages how new edits or entries are initiated, validated, recorded, and distributed. With blockchain, cryptology replaces third-party intermediaries as the keeper of trust, with all blockchain participants running complex algorithms to certify the integrity of the whole system.

European Commission Joint Research Centre

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