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How technology can power lifelong learning

The analogue approach can no longer keep pace with student or employer demands. Data management is the answer to enable real-time and lifelong learning

Learning passport Reuters
Education and career can run side by side, aided by technologies such as a digital learning passport verified by a blockchain database

“Experience never gets old,” said Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro’s character) in the 2015 film, The Intern.

But this is not how today’s education system is set up. Taking my daughter to collect her A-Level results last month reminded me how our lives are structured – as we progress, the education options narrow: school exams, degree and then career.

However, as careers can change, so should access to education. 

Consider MBAs, which are usually a pathway to explore new industries or functions.

Demand declined during the coronavirus pandemic but students are now returning – around 250,000 students worldwide were enrolled onto residential and online MBA programmes last year, according to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

I regret never having had the opportunity to do an MBA.

Is it too late now? Would my 32-plus years of professional experience benefit? Would it be worth the time and investment? 

From a career point of view, the answer is probably no. Yet to refine what I have learned an MBA may sharpen my skills if it could be a complementary activity. 

Combining education with career would provide the solution, but there are challenges such as matching timetables. And time off work to pursue further education is often not an option.

A solution is if education and employment could be combined. A dynamic new learning model could involve recording achievements in a personalised learning passport, which would replace the old sequential path.

Educational institutions are in need of digital transformation. Colleges and universities have generally been quick to embrace and adopt new technologies, but this enthusiasm has been less forthcoming when it comes to integrating educational/administrative processes, which remain mostly paper-based.

This can make the process inefficient due to issues of data reconciliation and verification. Issuing academic transcripts, for example, is one of the most time-consuming, labour-intensive tasks in academic institutions today, as each entry must be manually verified to ensure accuracy. 

Intermediaries exist to support ‘credentialing’ – the assessment of student qualifications – but these are reliant upon the efficiency of the academic institutions to validate the students record each time a request is made. 

“Academic credentialing can create a universal currency for credits that is interoperable internationally. It can also increase fidelity of the credentials through open authentication and verification. I believe both are possible through blockchain technology using digital passports,” says Narayanan Sundaresan, CIO, Strategic Education Inc.

Turning to the blockchain

A digital learning passport using blockchain technology could store a student’s record. Note the rise in the use of LinkedIn – the closest we have to a public database for individual academic and career journeys (albeit a selective and unverified one).

Blockchain technology has advanced significantly from an original distributed ledger technology enabling the trade of Bitcoin.

Unlike a traditional database, blockchain databases can be the single source of truth and allow collaboration between organisations without compromising data privacy. Blockchain enables the optimal audit record, which is increasingly critical for your career journey. 

Imagine your career from the start being recorded on a private blockchain in the form of the learning passport. Its data is validated on completion of each segment, be it work or study, and is therefore able to provide a validated biography for immediate use.

The owner can then provide access to the passport, knowing that they can edit but cannot verify its contents. It can then be accessed by academic institutions, employers, government agencies, banks, financial services providers etc, to build an instant accurate picture of the candidate.

Blockchain technology can put us in control of our life-learning journeys, so we can use our achievements to further our career goals on a real-time basis.

This will encourage more people to move to a dynamic model of learning and development throughout their life. It will also change our perception of education from an entry-point for career choices to a pursuit that complements lifetime careers.

Nish Kotecha is a serial tech entrepreneur and board professional. He is the chair and co-founder of Finboot