November, 2016

Decentralised education


On his blog, Stephen Downes highlights this article from Alec Whitters which discusses the unbundling (or disaggregation) of textbooks.

This isn’t unique to publishing. The digital era has transformed the broadcast media, changing not only how and when we consume content, but given rise to new business models, such as subscription services. The influence of digital disruption on the education sector will likely extend beyond the how and when of where learning takes place, enabling new models for recognising when learning has taken place.

Unbundling and mobile consumption is already playing out in the education sector. Let’s take the rise of MOOCs as an example. Platforms such as FutureLearn have a single column design with text being kept to short ‘chunks’ (more akin to news articles) designed to optimise the experience for mobile users. In addition, edX has launched its mobile app.

In 2013, I was part of the team to incorporate summative assessment into our free OpenLearn courses (which typically consist of a few hours learning). This enabled learning in small chunks to be recognised with a Statement of Participation and it has been a natural progression to issue digital OpenLearn badges. These badges can be attached to a learner’s digital profile on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Decentralisation and the impact on credentialing

The next evolutionary step in recognising learning, or credentialing, is currently underway. The Open University is investigating the potential of blockchains to create a public ledger of educational achievement, see

The blockchain, which underpins digital currencies, such as Bitcoin, could enable the creation of an educational currency where anyone in the community (i.e. teacher, student, professional and even enthusiast) can give anyone else educational credit. Eventually, it could enable digital recognition (e.g. OpenLearn badges) to be awarded for the demonstration of skills and expertise, and stored in a secure centralised environment.

This could disrupt the current educational model where credit for a qualification is inferred by a single institution. Instead, an educational currency could enable a learner to have greater portability of credit between institutions, and open up recognition based on merit, portfolios and evidence rather than qualification completion.

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© 2018 David Vince