It's time to build the future of online education: NFTs, DAOs, and the metaverse
Updated: Mar 11, 2022
The importance of education is unquestionable. Education pays. Earnings are higher, and unemployment is lower the higher the education attainment levels in the US. Societies with high graduation rates tend to have lower crime, better overall health, and higher civic involvement. And there is strong evidence that education is a key contributor to upward social mobility.
Despite progress, we continue to face a global education crisis. Learning loss has devastating consequences and requires urgent action. But there are no easy solutions. Because education is so essential to society, it has traditionally been viewed as the government's responsibility. State monopolies on education create a low incentive for innovation or entrepreneurial activity. Even with better incentives, quality education is still inherently difficult to measure.
Yet, even with the challenges, there may be no opportunity more significant than education to positively impact the world. We must invest in education, innovate where we can, and bring more talent into the sector.
Technology is foundational to addressing challenges in education. The future of work and the future of learning are increasingly converging. More than any time in the past, jobs in the knowledge economy require the consistent learning of new skills, tools, and the ability to synthesize new information. Unfortunately, the traditional education model fails to meet the moment and is often disconnected from these realities.
The future of education that harnesses new technologies has tremendous potential. We have already witnessed the improvements to education through increased personalization. This is just the beginning with potential breakthrough applications in AI, brain/computer interfaces, and transformative, immersive learning experiences in the metaverse.
But technology should not be viewed as the solution itself. The most challenging problems to solve in technology for education are human problems, in scaling trust and governance systems. Technology is ideally viewed as a very effective tool that can spur more approaches to tackling the many challenges in education.
On-Chain Education & Credentials
One of the barriers in creating a substantial paradigm shift to improve education has been credentialing. This is an old problem. The earliest European universities began without buildings or credentialed faculty. Systems of credentialing evolved to determine who should pass on knowledge, and eventually, early diplomas were recognized through these early networks of universities.
A blockchain-based credentialing system could give people control of their entire record of learning achievements over their lifetime. We have seen the promise of Bitcoin and DeFi to provide a relatively trustless alternative to existing financial institutions. A similar potential could be explored for the future of education. While completely trustless may be unnecessary, providing higher confidence levels through transparent, open systems could improve our education systems substantially.
The basics of a blockchain-based credentialing system would include making it possible to do the following in a block explorer:
Verify who issued a certificate
Verify who obtained it
See contents of the certificate
Existing credential systems greatly privilege formal education over other learning experiences. Informal learning opportunities have exploded on the internet, where educational content is mostly free on YouTube, blogs, and social media. Unfortunately, individuals find it difficult to show evidence for this learning.
Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) offer a new organizational and governance paradigm. DAOs could show us a new way to build learning communities and, eventually, the future university.
An educationDAO could harness smart contracts, autonomous agents, and decentralized applications to create sophisticated learning pathways of high-quality education. For example, individual courses could issue NFTs as evidence of completion based on automatically graded assessments. The members of the DAO could include faculty and experts who establish the criteria for the NFTs, and students can learn together as a community.
The rise of online cohort-based courses has demonstrated the value of real-time feedback and a sense of community while learning online. DAOs have been shown to create very engaged online communities harnessing tools and technologies that completely re-imagine incentive structures.
Successful educationDAO learning communities could be scaled up to an entire university or networked together through open standards and data interoperability.
It is acknowledged that there are numerous unanswered questions, including how to deliver high-quality education to the most vulnerable in our societies. It will also be necessary for future developments to ensure education values and academic freedom are maintained in the face of the business logic of venture capital and technology development. Regardless, it's time to build.