Blockchain Could Reconfigure Education

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New KnowledgeWorks paper explores blockchain's potential for schools, teachers, parents and students in the future of learning

KnowledgeWorks launches paper exploring blockchain's potential impact on the future of learning.

"It's important for educators and other stakeholders to think through all possible impacts -- both positive and negative -- blockchain could have on the future of learning.

From tracking absences to managing homework deadlines to keeping in touch with parents, emerging technologies are often looked to when solving a problem in a school or classroom.

But what if, rather than solving a problem, technology could open doors for learning? What if it could expand capacity for school districts, provide greater support for teachers, open opportunities for parents and community members to get involved, enable new learning structures, and increase learning possibilities for students?

Blockchain, a distributed, encrypted technology that tracks and verifies transactions, could have such impacts on learning in the next 10 years, according to a new KnowledgeWorks paper.

Released today, “Learning on the Block: Could Smart Transactional Models Help Power Personalized Learning?” considers possible impacts blockchain and smart contracts could have on the future of learning. The paper considers both cultural and technology trends to explore four possible scenarios reflecting how blockchain might or might not enable new avenues for personalized learning.

“Blockchain and smart contracts have the potential to help enable new approaches to education,” KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of Strategic Foresight Katherine Prince said. “Specifically, these technologies could enable learners and their families to access experiences and resources across more distributed and diverse learning ecosystems, making learning journeys more personalized and supportive for individual students. Alternatively, they could be used to optimize existing structures and approaches.”

While conducting research for the paper, Prince and co-authors Jason Swanson and Katie King worked with research firm Aperio Insights to run extensive focus groups, inviting experts in blockchain, big data and education to discuss possible intersections between blockchain and learning.

“We wanted to be sure that we had a solid understanding of what blockchain could do, what might not be possible, and what other technologies might be better suited for various purposes. We also wanted to check ourselves in terms of bias and blind spots,” said Swanson, KnowledgeWorks Director of Strategic Foresight.

Each of the four “Learning on the Block” scenarios draws upon this research to explore possibilities ranging from using blockchain to make relatively small operational improvements in a public school district to enabling students to record their learning and access education across a community.

Each of the scenarios reflects how blockchain and smart contracts might intersect with cultural values to enable more or less support for personalized learning. One alarming storyline explores an imaginary future company that creates revenue streams from anonymous student-level data collected through a turnkey product offered to schools

“It’s important for educators and other stakeholders to think through all possible impacts – both positive and negative – blockchain and smart contracts could have on the future of learning,” said Swanson. “By considering how these technologies may be used, education stakeholders can help steer the conversation about how they might be developed and employed in the future.”

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Mary Kenkel
KnowledgeWorks
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