Love it or hate it, believe in it or distrust it, Bitcoin has disrupted the very platform on which modern economies are built - currency. This cryptocurrency with its non-traceable, outside of government control approach has rocked the financial world in recent years. Blamed for fundingillegal industries, banned by some countries while lauded by free market activists, and even adopted by some countries as their new currency, it hasn't gone away. If anything it has resulted in an explosion of cryptocurrencies with some seeing cryptocurrencies as the currency of the future. A similar situation currently exists in higher education.
Degrees are simply a fiat currency for trading (buying/selling) in the job market, just as money is a fiat system for trading good and services. Fiat money, like the dollar, is a currency without intrinsic value. It only has value because governments say it has value and attempt to maintain this perceived value by getting those who use it to agree to its value. However, if the value is questioned or another system arises, like Bitcoin, the fiat system is threatened.
In like manner, if people are prepared to use another fiat “currency” for trading employees in the job market, the original currency, the Degree could lose its value. In fact, the fiat value of degrees is even more astounding than fiat currencies. As Kevin Carey puts it, degrees “ are universally recognized and never expire” and they are “ golden keys to the parts of the labor market most worth entering.” A never expiring, valuable currency for buying entry to the job market - no wonder they continue to exist.
But, what gives a degree its value? There are a number of elements that contribute to the value of degrees.
However, as Kevin Carey puts it, we don't buy drills we actually buy holes. It's not the degree that is important, it is what the degree says the holder is able to do. Yet ironically degrees provide little evidence of what students actually know or can do. In fact many organisations acknowledge this, and expect to put all new employees through their own induction training. The university of the 21st century in many ways is really the workplace. Organisations are buying drills that need to create holes knowing that that drill is the wrong size and will have to be re-engineered before it can work.
And so we have a higher education system that is propped up by governments,
It seems highly probable that education's Bitcoin moment is imminent.
Time for the Bitdegree?
What is needed to create a “Bitdegree” - a qualification “currency” that exists outside of traditional university structures, is internationally understood and accessible, and accepted by employers as evidence of knowledge and ability? One thing - employers who accept it as equivalent to a traditional qualification, just as merchants accept Bitcoins in place of Dollars. The next question then is what will cause this shift to take place?
Turning to Bitcoin, we see the following four catalysts for its creation:
In the light of this let's consider the current catalysts for Bitdegrees:
The catalysts are in place, all that is now required are the following three elements to make the concept of "Bitdegrees" a reality:
And so why haven't we seen the rise of a new form of higher education? Knowledge and power. Employers haven't yet officially endorsed alternative education as being equivalent knowledge to traditional education. Governments still want to control the knowledge economy and be its gatekeepers.
Thus, it's not surprising if we find new innovative education models coming up against legislation - just as cryptocurrencies have. However, these laws are likely to be as unsuccessful at stopping advancement as the Red Flag law was at stopping the rise of the modern motor vehicle - a law that required a person to walk in front of the car carrying a red flag so it didn't go faster than the horse and carriage. Not many horse and carriages around today!
Holes not drills
Clark Kerr, the former University of California President stated that out of the 85 human institutions that have survived for the last 500 years, about 70 are universities. However, we now find ourselves at a pivotal point in the evolution of higher education. For the first time, these ancient bastions of knowledge are under threat by the very technologies their knowledge helped create.
The concept of a Bitdegree could represent more than simply the next iteration of higher education, it could represent a major leap forward in higher education. In addition to be recognised, the current core tenet of a degree, it could be universally accessible, economically and politically secure, independently verifiable, and most importantly, transparent. Employers will for the first time be able to see evidence of what the holder knows.
However, even if content is provided, the learning is curated and credentialed, these Bitdegrees only have value if organisations recognise their legitimacy. What will cause this tipping point is unknown, but what is clear is that the conditions are perfect for an inevitable change in higher education. And what may be even more surprising, when the Bitdegree becomes an accepted fiat for knowledge and ability, is that the drills will produce the holes employers bought them for with no need for re-engineering.
Dr. Craig Blewett is the author and founder of the Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) approach. He helps schools and universities around the world towards the effective use of educational technology.
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