Friday 10 May 2019

#Blockchain in #learning exploring for #validation of lifelonglearning #certification

This is the first part of a series on Blockchain for Learning posts. In this post I am giving my (current) overview of Blockchain options from industry, a second post will focus more on the academic side (including impact on universities), and I will add a philosophical post on it as well).

Background and project
As I am working on the learning bit of the skills 3.0 project (a multi-disciplinary project combining AI, HR, learning and learning certification, see basic slides here), I have been gathering some Blockchain-for-Learning solutions as well (exploring options before adding them to the project slides). 

Main idea for using Blockchain (open or closed) for learning
What I am looking for is a stackable certification solution, which blockchain for learning or education can provide. This stackable way of organising or linking learning could enable a validated, personalized certification procedure covering both formal learning (e.g. certification, degrees, micro-credits) and informal learning (e.g. badges, skills, experiences). Practically: each learner has a learning wallet or portfolio, and you - as a learner - can add each learning step as you 'earn' it and you are issued a certificate/badge of what you learned by a learning authority/individual/group).  

Why is this useful?
Remember how each one of us has to give proof of learning whenever we want to change jobs, or when HR sets up these profiles that are so complex, that you wonder whether you will ever fit in? Well, in an ideal world this blockchain-for-learning solution might shed some light on both your formal credits, as well as your experiences throughout life and even your emerging interests (e.g. blockchain basics). It is a bit like a LifeLongLearning Accreditation On Steroids. 
So the blocks of this blockchain would be all instances where you learn, this could be study hours, but also workshops, reading, interactions with experts, papers, patents, peer groups of practitioners ... 
The idea is to support personalized learning when people are reskilling or upskilling their competencies and knowledge and adding a layer to it so their training and learning can be certified in a secure and digital fashion. 

Its technology, so there are heated debates
With all new technology, the heated debates emerge as well: what is the best, what are the upsides, who is a true believer, who is a true cynic... all of this I keep for a post later on this month. For now, just to give an idea, I am focusing on what is out there. Which is more than I had imagined. 

Blockchain you say? 
Any transaction between different parties where the transactions need to be validated, and they are distributed across locations fit the blockchain technology. The data is distributed over a massive amount of people, which would make tracking all the transactions very complex if done manually. Blockchain automates these transactions, and in many cases, they use distributed databases, as well as smart contracts to enable transactions. A smart contract is a computer protocol intended to digitally facilitate, verify, or enforce the negotiation or performance of a contract. Smart contracts allow the performance of credible transactions without third parties. These transactions are trackable and irreversible (it being irreversible is one of the topics of debate, for instance, even if you are the author, you cannot change the transaction... so how does this fit in with Personal Data?). However, there is one important factor: the learner should be the one in charge of who can see what from his 'learning experiences and certification', which means she can give or revoke access to personal records. 

A great white paper on it (53 pages), called My Skills Project, written by John Casey from City of Glasgow College is a good read to get acquinted with blockchain for learning, focusing on vocational training (great read!). 

Some features that I feel are key:
  • Privacy (well, yes)
  • Learner is the owner of all data (others might be as well, but intermittent, while the learner is the owner of all their data. Right to be forgotten is also important, but seems difficult at this point - says my colleague Frederik who knows more about blockchain tech).
  • mobile first (you would think this is a given, but ... it still is not).
  • Standardization (otherwise it becomes difficult to achieve lifelong learning traceability)
  • Bridging formal and informal: this demands a variety of validated certification, including micro-credits, open badges and the like.
Giving some examples of products out there or in progress
Chainscript demo by Phil Komarny (Chainscript from SalesForce): in just 5 minutes Phil gives an overview and live (!) demo of the chainscript on mobile (oh yes!).

SmartDegrees: a mobile tool developed in Spain (the app already exists and has been rolled out in some Spanish Universities, a.o. Carlos III in Madrid). Because this solution seems (at least) a good starting point, I have a meeting with one of its people next week (looks promising, you can see a 2-minute video of what smartDegrees does here, but only in Spanish at the moment). 

A great comprehensive overview of Blockchain overall and with practical implementations in education comes from the Open University (UK), which looks at their plans for smart contracts, micro-accreditation, open badges, ... great 9-minute video. It is John Domingue (director of KMI at the OU) who speaks, and he has just been awarded the fellowship of the British Blockchain Association. 

LearningMachine: from MIT lab, and the good old W3C credentials community group, LearningMachine emerged. This is a full product in market, fully self-sovereign identity. But not sure how open they are to non-classic accreditation, although their video does include 'skills equivalencies' but not sure of the peer recommendations or fully informal learning options. They seem to be more focused on formal education (from government, university, companies). Their 2-minute mobile app can be seen in action here.

Standard-oriented information
CIMEA is the Italian Blockchain for qualifications standard. Their certification wallet service is called Diplo Me, which is still under construction.

DigiCerts is the German counterpart for Blockchain certification standards.

Blockcerts, subtitled "the open standard for blockchain certificates" is a service connected to Learning Machine, and also works towards a standard in an Alliance of major universities (which makes it feel mostly formal in certification). 

Europe is developing a standard embedded in its Digital Education Action Plan, called "framework for digitally-signed credentials". (pdf-document) A mostly theoretical approach, but of interest as it will be linked to Europass and such.

And of course the laudable Open Badges, used by multiple organisations (e.g. The Open University) to certify informal learning (I love this one, but it is of course going against the dominant system).

Some additional sources
Accredible is another, with UK, Netherlands and USA offices. They work across LMS systems, so they seem more LMS oriented. A lot of reading to get the idea, but nice reading. This is more like a certification publisher, not an active certification wallet option. 

The American, Public University system has blockchain lined up as well, but I could not find a bigger description of their project. 

Blockchain is a hot topic, so there is a multitude of courses out there, but one that seems to specialize is the Blockchain Training Alliance . They do not seem to offer specific Blockchain products though.

There are also some standards being developed (nice to keep in mind when wanting to use blockchain in a later stage):

Then there are a couple of blockchain companies who haven't developed a Blockchain for learning solution, but seem to be eager to explore the field:
T-mining (Belgium) - working with Frederik to explore which solution would fit my need best, great people to talk to. 
Learnovate (Ireland, connected to Trinity College Dublin), wrote a piece about it here.

Looking forward to getting a more in-depth look at these, and considering some of the more academic and philosophic ideas paralleling this technology. If you know of any other solutions, feel free to add them as a comment, or let me know. 

(picture from OpenBlockChain from UK)

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