- Colleges using blockchain to share and verify students' academic credentials may be given pause by a new Gartner report indicating that 90% of blockchain implementations will need to be replaced within 18 months to remain viable.
- The report strikes a cautionary note, indicating the market is fragmented and difficult to understand and as a result leads early users to adopt disparate offerings and tack them onto existing technology infrastructure, writes Adrian Lee, senior research director.
- Still, growth is expected, with Gartner projecting the blockchain market to reach $176 billion in 2025 and $3.1 trillion by 2030. Lee advises tech leaders to prepare for a "multiplatform" industry with shifting standards and rapid evolution.
To be sure, colleges are aware of some of the potential pitfalls Gartner's report signals.
An effort by nine universities globally to explore blockchain — announced in April and including MIT and Harvard — is focused on improving the technology to be secure and user-friendly. It then plans to build a support "infrastructure" to help colleges administer the credentials, project officials told Education Dive in April.
Other efforts by colleges to use blockchain include a pilot by MIT to offer digital diplomas to a group of some 100 students. Meanwhile, a citywide effort in Cleveland with the private Case Western Reserve University intends to make the region a research and development hub for the digital ledger technology.
"It's not so dire,” said Chris Jagers, CEO of blockchain digital records startup Learning Machine, who called Gartner's report "too pessimistic."
Learning Machine worked with MIT and the Virginia-based, for-profit ECPI University to offer verification of student degrees on the blockchain.
Jagers said the Gartner report overlooks the role open standards can play in helping early adopters evolve along with new technology.
"History has lots of examples where proprietary solutions get replaced by open standards," Jagers said. "Anybody that uses open standards to issue credentials will be in a good space."
Tobe Phelps, chief technology innovation officer at Central New Mexico Community College, concurred with Jagers. His, too, has begun offering students the option of a blockchain diploma.
So far, as many as 1,624 students have accepted their CNM diplomas digitally and some 900 viewed them or sent others to view them. Of those, 728 verified the credentials and most credentials were verified two or three times, Phelps said. The college enrolled around 23,000 students as of the fall of 2018.
The college partnered with IBM to start the second version of its blockchain infrastructure, which will use an open system to export and import digital credentials using multiple standards.
"Instead of the standard being the center of the system, we are having it be the spokes of the system," Phelps said. "It allows multiple other colleges to take part in our system without changing their base standards."
He added that there are several, varying open standards, so a shakedown will eventually settle on the better option.
This is key to colleges' efforts to provide digital credentials, Jagers said. While the challenges of blockchain are similar across enterprises, he said institutions of higher learning have a "greater incentive to strive for a safe blockchain because the credential they issue is core to the value they provide."
Hiring managers are already biting. In a recent report, online education advocate the International Council for Open and Distance Education suggests that traditional transcripts could become irrelevant if use of digital credentials grows.
A separate report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities indicated that hiring managers find digital portfolios more useful than academic transcripts when evaluating recent graduates.