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Can non-fungible tokens make online courses better?

Can non-fungible tokens make online courses better?

According to Coin Telegraph, there were $300 million in non-fungible token (NFT) sales in January and February this year. What opportunities does this burgeoning industry present for course creators? Will NFTs make the online teaching and learning experience better?

Online courses, despite their continued popularity, have always faced a single caveat - proof of credentials. Credentials form the basis of modern society. Ranging from secondary school qualifications to advanced PhDs, they arguably also make up part of a person’s identity. Many employers view credentials as a signal for a potential hire’s competency.

However, with the pandemic reshaping society, we have to question “credentialism” as it stands.

Within the United Kingdom, students are paying £9,000 for Zoom lectures and university facilities they can’t even access. Learners are complaining about teaching quality, which has drastically plummeted. The entire experience is not worth the cost and has left them saddled with unnecessary debt.

So why do they persist with this? The answer is simple. We’ve shoehorned pathways to good first jobs into academic credentials.

Many people have used the downtime offered by the pandemic to re-consider their careers. They are now seeking faster, cheaper pathways to higher-paid job opportunities. It’s becoming increasingly clear that universities are slow to adapt to changes in the job market. Even for programs that appear highly relevant such as Computer Science, the curriculum is often less practical and up-to-date.

We passed “peak credentialism” a few years ago.

Employers are re-framing their position. Pedigrees matter less now that it’s much easier to identify competencies. There is an inherent realisation that online courses and Bootcamp programmes might fill this gap perfectly. Both offer a radical re-staging of incumbent educational institutions to provide faster, cheaper pathways to first jobs with minimal debt. They can create on-ramps that bring people from nothing (no opportunity) to something.

But there’s an issue. How can employers quickly validate the full curriculum pathway a learner has taken? Faking an online credential is easy, and one can easily copy and paste a badge onto their portfolio.

Enter non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

At a high level, NFTs represent unique cryptographic data records on the blockchain. NFTs are non-fungible, which means you cannot replace or exchange them for another identical NFT. Each token is unique, similar to a rare trading card.

NFTs are perfect for storing data about unique documents such as certificates. With the blockchain, instructors can issue educational credentials as tokens which contain:

  • date of issue
  • name of the online course
  • a unique online course credential number
  • name of the learner receiving the credential
  • name of the instructor who led the online course
  • a list of modules undertaken by the learner along with results

Online course credentials issued as NFTs can help learners permanently protect their educational achievements. They can also help employers in running background checks quickly.

For economic migrants and refugees, NFT-based credentials would be accessible and verifiable regardless of location, as the blockchain runs on a decentralised network of computer nodes.

Apart from reducing the time and cost related to credentials issuing and validation, NFT-based credentials can create additional revenue streams and new opportunities for instructors.

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References

Phillips, D. and Kramer, M., 2021. Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT): Beginner’s Guide. [online] Decrypt. Available at: https://decrypt.co/resources/non-fungible-tokens-nfts-explained-guide-learn-blockchain [Accessed 5 February 2021].

0xcert. 2020. Education credentials, frauds, and the blockchain. [online] Available at: https://0xcert.org/news/education-credentials/ [Accessed 5 February 2021].