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Blockchain: Creating Education and Workforce Opportunities

Blockchain: Creating Education and Workforce Opportunities

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Recently, the American Council on Education (ACE) released its findings from a six-month study on the use of blockchain technology in education. The study, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, examines the potential for blockchain to help individuals communicate the depth of their education, skills, experiences, and credentials.

ACE President Ted Mitchell’s foreword may contain the most honest portrayal of the importance of linking education, work experience, and credentialing. He stated, “As the implications of mass unemployment loom large, the imperative of making good on our collective educational investments takes on new urgency. Blockchain, in particular, holds promise to create more efficient, durable connections between education and work.” President Mitchell goes on to write that “[higher ed] must be more willing than ever to test innovations that could equitably help people better develop and share their skills.”

The report, co-authored by Kerri Lemoie and Louis Soares, identifies 71 active blockchain (distributed ledger technology) initiatives, including one sponsored by American Public University System (APUS). Dr. Melissa Layne piloted an initiative using blockchain to uniquely identify the creator of Open Education Resources. She is the editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Open Educational Resources, an academic journal sponsored by APUS and the Policy Studies Organization (PSO).

In the opening pages of the report, Lemoie and Soares note that the half-life of skills learned in college is five years, and the average time in a single job is now 4.2 years. Students and workers need to document what they learn and do, while the jobs that employers need to fill are changing due to technology.

Information about what people know is maintained in multiple forms: resumes, high school and college transcripts and diplomas, human resource records, job applications, licenses, certificates, and even digital badges. Blockchain may be able to solve the challenge of multiple points of record storage by shifting the control over the data to the individual learner and worker.

The three major themes that emerged from the research are personal data agency, lifelong learning, and the power of connected ecosystems. Personal data agency provides individuals with immediate access to their digital data. That access includes the ability to control who can view it and allow for the verification of the data without contacting the issuing party (i.e., a current or former employer or former educational institutions).

Much has been written about the changing global economy and workers’ need for lifelong learning in order to maintain their attractiveness to prospective employers. The nonprofit clearinghouse, Credential Engine, identified more than 700,000 unique credentials in the U.S. Similarly, postsecondary institutions issued 370,000 credentials, non-academic institutions issued 315,000 credentials, public and private secondary schools issued 46,000 credentials, and Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) providers issued 7,000 credentials.

The growth in the issuance of credentials makes it more difficult to document, verify, and share data about learning. Digital wallets can provide data-backed proof of learning that resumes and LinkedIn profiles do not.

The authors point out that technology does not entirely replace the value of human connections and trusted relationships. Networks of students, educators, community members, institutions, employers, nonprofits, and government can create a connected ecosystem of trust. Several of these ecosystems are described in the paper.

Authors Lemoie and Soares have collected and summarized a lot of information about blockchain and its potential to positively impact students, workers, educational institutions, and employers. They identify challenges and concerns about using distributed ledger technologies but conclude that the potential to ensure a citizen’s place in a highly competitive labor market is worth the risk. I recommend reading the full report to anyone leading an educational institution or learning organization.

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. Dr. Boston lives in Owings Mills, MD with his wife Sharon and their two daughters.

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