How Blockchain is Changing Learning & Development

Let me share with you one of the latest and rising concepts being seen in education, learning and development, and that is “blockchain”. I am sure if you have been in learning and development, you must have heard of it this year. So, what blockchain basically is and is blockchain going to be the next great thing in learning and development? Well, this is the question I have been encountering with high frequency regarding this technology that until recently, previously belonged to cryptocurrency Bitcoin. The subtext to this question, I assume: do educators and trainers need to be aware of the blockchain? What, if anything, should they know about it?

Let me first describe the blockchain. The blockchain is usually termed as digital ledger. And maybe a quite simple explanation should just leave it at that. It is the ledger; a distributed and digital ledger. The blockchain is the distributed database that gives an alterable and semi public record of the digital transactions[1]. Every block gathered at a timestamped batch of the transaction is to be incorporated in the ledger or in the blockchain. Every block is recognized by the cryptographic signature. These blocks are back-linked, i.e., they refer to the signature of the former block in the chain, and that chain can be tracked all way back to the very first block made. As such, blockchain entails record of all the transactions executed. This record is un-editable.
Now, let’s discuss the main features of blockchain. Firstly, the blockchain is the distributed database. It implies that database is present in multiple copies all across various computers. These computers create a peer-to-peer network, which means that there is no single centralized server or database and the blockchain database is spread across a decentralized machine network, each works as a node on that network. Due to the distributed nature of blockchain database, data regarding all new transactions is required to be propagated to all the nodes on networks so that the blockchain remains in sync like one “world-wide ledger”, and not as numerous conflicting ledgers. This implies that for updating the blockchain, these distributed and multiple copies should be reconciled so that they all hold the same version. New blocks are developed by the process termed as “mining” that validates the new transactions and adds these into the chain.

Now let’s see this in learning and development context, but I would first like to share some background. The Open University published a paper in December 2015, proposing appropriating the blockchain technology for developing online learning approaches[2]. The paper entails various out of the box concepts that can facilitate the deployment of Bitcoin blockchain technology in many online learning and development protocols.

As stated by the author, smart contracts can be helpful to change P2P aid to make it more focused towards personal development, instead of monetary transactions. In other words, we can say that blockchain learning revolves around decentralizing learning contracts. The blockchain technology can be utilized both for personal development and managing the educational cost.

The paper proposed that if learning market is decentralized during establishing a unit for measuring learning accomplishments, the blockchain may be utilized to make an autonomous educational exchange method. For this to happen, smart contracts need to be developed for giving the backbone of the exchange. Accordingly, if we begin thinking of learning and development as an educational currency, we can start to make more proper modes of communication with the learners[3]. For instance, an instructor or trainer can develop inspirational learning chunks and position these as blocks on the blockchain through mining-like mechanism which would be discovered and expanded by the learners. Following are some of the other ways blockchain technology is bringing a change in learning and development.

Broadcasting scholastic achievements of the students on a public ledger
The learning history and scholastic achievements of the students can be saved on a blockchain ledger by using smart contracts[4]. The history of the educational and personal development of students can be available on the public ledger that everyone can see. This learning timeline can be used for projecting upcoming plans in accordance to learning history of the students.

Reducing the learning costs through P2P (Peer-to-peer) learning networks

The blockchain can be used as a way of P2P data exchange medium which rewards students who share information and contribute towards their education and development institution. Such concept can bring two advantages[5]:

  • Giving a financial advantage for the students who successfully complete their pre-allocated tasks
  • Promoting participants to adopt such innovative technology in educational context

In conclusion, it can be inferred that blockchain is not just a financial innovation and Bitcoin is not just a currency, rather it is one of the most viable innovations created in last 100 years. Applying the blockchain technology in online learning and development and distance learning, educational process can be improved with cost efficiency.

[1] http://hackeducation.com/2016/04/07/blockchain-education-guide 
[2] http://bitcoinnewschannel.com/2015/12/22/blockchain-learning-utilizing-cryptocurrency-technologies-to-develop-online-learning/ 
[3] http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1473014/keeping-distributed-databases-synchronized-in-a-unstable-network 
[4] http://motherboard.vice.com/read/bitcoin-is-unsustainable 
[5] http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21650295-or-it-next-big-thing