Today’s classrooms look much the same as ones 100 years ago if you don’t look too closely. What is most different – aside from technology – is who’s enrolled and what their purpose is for continuing their education. Some innovative companies are sharing their perspectives on what evolving college will look like in a future incarnation.
The idea of a ‘national learning economy’ isn’t new—America has been moving in a direction where work and education are integrated, rather than sequential, for the past several decades. The ACT Foundation defines this as the new American Dream, or a way for workers to “achieve greater life satisfaction and economic security.”
The Institute of the Future and ACT Foundation released a video teasing a glimpse of how employee-centered learning might appear. The concept involves Edublocks—one-hour chunks of learning from virtually any source. These blocks are held in individual accounts, part of a proposed system called Ledger.
“The Ledger makes it possible for you to get credit from anywhere,” says the narrator. Instead of relying on formal learning institutions, this future will acknowledge that education takes place through many different venues—including life experience, work, community training, and more.
The Institute of the Future explains that Edublocks would work like the digital currency Bitcoin. Bitcoin is tracked and verified through a system called Blockchain, the technology that would make all learning measurable and recordable.
If this sounds far-fetched, remember that massive open online courses (MOOCs) didn’t exist ten years ago. Credentialing, add-on certifications, and other learning opportunities that focus on workplace skills rather than traditional degrees, are a booming sector of higher education. The Ledger/Edublocks vision is just a decade away, with a proposal for 2026. The interactive website, Learning Is Earning, allows visitors to imagine how Ledger could work for them.
DECENTRALIZING HIGHER EDUCATION AND MAKING IT MORE TRANSPARENT
IFTF research director Jane McGonigal says, “The question we’re asking about education is what will happen if that system becomes radically decentralized,” as is happening in the financial industry. “With Bitcoin, there is no central authority — no government or bank — regulating the exchange of money. Instead, the entire system is transparent and distributed in a way that allows you to trust the larger collaborative system, without a regulatory body in place.”
Given the complaints about accrediting colleges and universities, McGonigal’s comparison makes a lot of sense. She explains, “What if higher education changed in a similar way? In Bitcoin, anyone can grant a coin to anyone else, and that becomes a part of the permanent financial record that anyone else can see. What if, in learning, anyone could grant a learning credential to anyone else — such as a badge for a skill demonstrated, or a “block” representing one hour worth of training or mentoring in a particular area?”
The key concept behind IFTF’s version of education ten years from now is that “Learning isn’t artificially separate from the rest of life,” according to McGonigal. There’s a way Edublocks can even be part of the cost side of college. Users “can get paid for passing on what you learned to others, which helps level the playing field for affording an education.”
LEARNERS CAN IDENTIFY SKILLS WITH A BETTER RETURN ON INVESTMENT
The other component of Ledger, aside from record keeping, would allow analysis of learning opportunities to see which ones generate income. Remember, the goal is to empower employees to gain the skills that will help them earn more. Investors could conceivably offer funds for activities that would make you learn more marketable skills, with payoffs down the road. Employers looking to hire would have more current information about a candidate’s skills, says McGonigal.
Jean Hagan, executive producer at IFTF, says, “Today’s students who are, in fact, working learners, many of whom are weaving diverse experiences in learning and working throughout their entire careers are disrupting all of the traditional institutions and economic models of higher ed already.” While unbundled or, as IFT calls it, unbounded, learning seems futuristic, it is really already happening. Edublocks and Ledger are one way the trend might continue empowering working learners to have more control over their destinies.