Blockchain for Shareable Credentials

MIT and Learning Machine use blockchain technology to create a secure network for sharing educational information.
AS MOOCS AND OTHER credentialing platforms become more integrated into the educational landscape, one obstacle has been how to make sure sensitive information—such as educational histories and transcripts—can be securely transmitted online. A new collaboration between the MIT Media Lab’s Learning Initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and enterprise software provider Learning Machine is focused on this problem. The partners have developed an open-source system for creating, sharing, and verifying educational credentials using blockchain technology.

The technology was first developed to create a secure environment for the exchange of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. A blockchain refers to an online ledger of all transactions ever made within a computer network. This digital ledger is available for anyone to view, and nothing on it can be erased. For anyone to add or change information to the network, all participants in that network must verify and approve those changes.

Because this information is widely distributed and tightly encrypted, this network is very difficult for any hacker to breach. For that reason, the underlying technology that supports Bitcoin promises to have far greater global implications than the cryptocurrency itself—especially in sectors that rely on trust and security to function.

Under the system developed by Learning Machine and MIT Media Lab, individuals can share educational certificates with anyone requiring official documents by sending a link. Blockchain verification, say project organizers, will allow learners to share publicly the evidence of their achievements, while still keeping that information secure. At the same time, it will allow employers to trust that the information applicants provide is truthful.

The partners note that the system will be enhanced over time to make it more useful for real-world adoption, particularly for encrypting documents that contain highly private information, such as academic transcripts.

“The first generation of students to grow up entirely during the Internet Age has started applying for college, and many admissions officers can share stories about applicants trying to text photos of their academic records,” says Chris Jagers, co-founder and CEO of Learning Machine. “The expectation, while seemingly humorous, conveys an honest impression about the way things should work. It should be that easy for people to share certified records directly with others and have them trusted as authentic.”