IBM Announces Blockchain-Based Learning Credentials Amidst Competition From Multiple Companies


In an announcement, IBM will release a learning credential software system to immutably store skills certifications for students. Potential employers will be able to instantly verify certifications, diplomas, and other records of learning. The blockchain-based utility is currently in early development and IBM plans to open the network to further participants in 2020.

Cited in the announcement was a study performed by the IBM Institute of Business Value which found that 120 million workers around the world may require retraining in the next three years due to automation.

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For students, IBM is pitching this software solution as capable of producing a permanent, verifiable record of learning that students can control themselves. With records stored separately from university information systems, colleges and universities can say goodbye to withholding the release of student records on the condition of paying past-due parking tickets.

However, given the early stages of the project there are few details as to the planned governance structure and administration of the network. For potential adopters of the software, this absence of clarity poses a barrier to adoption as the argument continues to develop between centralized and decentralized governance structures in blockchain networks.

For potential employers, IBM’s blockchain utility should help reduce cases of resume and application fraud. However, IBM admits that this program will add to the reported 738,000 unique credentials in the United States and the success of IBM’s learning credential software will depend on the adoption of learning institutions, employers and students.

Currently, the development team behind IBM’s blockchain-based learning credential project is partnered with a non-profit providing academic verifications for more than 3,700 colleges and universities in the United States. Central New Mexico Community College and VetBloom, a learning ecosystem for veterinarians with learners in hundreds of hospitals and professional associations, are also listed in the IBM announcement as co-founding partners.

In a similar project, Sony Global Education partnered with IBM in 2017 to produce a system for sharing, authentication, and rights management in education. The system utilized IBM Cloud and was powered by Hyperledger Fabric 1.0, a blockchain framework hosted by the Linux Foundation. In 2018, Sony Global Education’s Global Math Challenge issued participation certificates that served as a permanent score report meant to assist participants in future educational and/or professional applications.

Competitors to IBM’s blockchain-based learning credential utility include MIT-partnered Blockcerts and England-based APPII, among others.

In 2018, Blockcerts issued 600+ digital versions of diplomas to MIT students. These blockchain-based diplomas can be instantly verified by future employer organizations. Blockcerts is available on Android and iOS.

APPII is partnered with The Open University to create a qualification and accreditation platform based on blockchain which helps manage incoming students and their academic records.

The prevalence of micro-certifications and online learning has increased over the past decade with one in four higher education students enrolled in online courses, according to a 2016 report from Babson Survey Research Group. As more and more students turn to alternative methods of education it feels natural to have a blockchain-based alternative to traditional methods of securing records of education.

Peter Buffo is a tech and culture journalist who has worked for various publications since 2016. He currently attends Loyola University New Orleans on a full ride scholarship.

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