Thoughts on how Blockchain and Edtech can transform and simplify the educational process along with learning.


We as IBMers have a great vantage point of the technological tsunami that is coming our way.  Many believe that the rising tide of robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence is going to displace many of the jobs that are available today, just as it will also introduce completely new jobs that require new skill-sets.   (See the YouTube video Humans need not apply.) Our CEO, Ginni Rometty is already referring to this critical need of preparing for ‘new collar jobs’.  In prior blogs I have talked about the need to rethink education by introducing a new culture into the classroom (See: Out-thinking Old-school). In this blog I want to introduce the concept of democratized learning and the incubation of Edtech using next generation platforms.

In this last US election, in how many presidential debates did you witness coherent solutions about the need to re-train workers and prepare students for new skills? Not many, right? The US is now actively de-centralizing education and giving more power to the states to drive changes in curriculum. These states in turn are turning to industry for ideas and forming consortia for introducing topics like data science as early as elementary schools.

Enter Edtech. Many say that Edtech will outpace Fintech by the year 2020. (See TechCrunch article, Edtech is the next fintech)

Consider how technology could be used to innovate on the process of education and the culture of education. Consider how technology could be used to incubate a democratized and agile ecosystem for Edtech. This ecosystem could serve everyone from coal miners struggling to become re-trained in solar energy to elementary school students in urban cities learning the basic tenants of topics like design thinking, quantum computing, and cyber defense.  This ecosystem would reside on a skills hyperledger built on blockchain.

A Skills Hyperledger Built on Blockchain

A skills hyperledger is an infrastructure that can track certification and badging from an online learning environment. It can have a value that changes over time as new concepts enter the market.  Certifications can be safely traced to individuals so that should they learn something in one non-traditional learning environment, the user could glean credit from traditional learning environments.  For example, say that a soldier in the army were to learn about cyber-defense. They take extensive classes and they now wish to leave the army in order to join corporate America. With a system like this, what that soldier learned can be tracked and certified as they enter into the business world.  There would be social wrappers around the modules, teacher enablement, and online communities.  There would be analytic tools, dashboards and AI-powered bots that would recommend modules for you based on your strengths and needs. There would be self-paced, personalized learning pathways.

Consider the implications of this to traditional places of learning, with teachers that already feel dis-empowered and over-burdened.  Teachers might point parents and students to online systems like this in order to augment what they are trying to teach. Our Watson-enabled applications could sit on this hyperledger to recommend further modules to students based on their skill-sets and interests, pointing them towards curriculum where there is hot demand for particular skills. This would not be curriculum solely tailored for STEM alone, but would indeed include all of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics).

This platform by itself is not a panacea. Considerations like certification of the content, pricing and other factors need consideration. Without engaging and well scripted Edtech applications residing in this ecosystem, it may as well be a desert with tumbleweeds. Technology companies should use platforms like this to post curriculum that we think is important to fill new collar jobs (like quantum computing, IoT, cyber-defense, design thinking, systems thinking, cognitive, cloud, etc.) in both traditional and non-traditional learning spaces. Platforms like this can help incubate Edtech companies so they can find a ready made distribution channel.

This system does not have implications for education alone. Healthcare and energy workers could also use this as a system to manage certifications as well. This approach could transform the accessibility of education and make it truly AGILE. It is a solution for our times.  The democratization of learning has never been more direly needed than now.


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