Learning, CryptoEconomics & the Open Culture Movement

Imagine if students, teachers and parents could track experiences throughout the learning ecosystem, using cryptoeconomics and new blockchain database technology to continuously improve. Or if students could have access to their own universal record with comprehensive data on their educational experiences from preschool through college and beyond. And imagine if learners could use smart contracts with transportation systems, food service, and other community supports to enable them to pursue learning beyond the walls of the traditional school.

And with new encryption technology, student-level data would be protected through mathematical proofs that provide high levels of security.

KnowledgeWorks’ newest forecast, “The Future of Learning: Education in the Era of Partners in Code”, marks the organization’s fourth comprehensive forecast on the future of learning. Our new forecast explores what learning might be like as we transition into a new era wherein our economy, our institutions, and our societal structures continue to change at an accelerating pace.

Our new forecast seducation-blockchaineeks to imagine what learning might look like as part of this new era by exploring the future through the lens of five drivers of change:

  • Optimized Selves: Discovering new human horizons
  • Labor Relations 2.0: Negotiating new machine partnerships
  • Alternate Economies: Finding the right niche
  • Smart Transactional Models: Creating self-managing institutions
  • Shifting Landscapes: Innovating in volatile conditions


All of these drivers are equally important, with each serving in its own way to shape the future in general and the future of learning specifically. However, one driver in particular, Smart Transactional Models, feels as if it has been receiving a lot of press as of late.

In our forecast we describe Smart Transactional Models as follows:

As part of a growing open culture movement, the authority to distribute assets, access permissions, and gain rights to resources is shifting from hierarchical institutions to communities. At the same time, innovations in encryption technologies are ushering in more transparent and distributed models of structuring transactions. Together, these developments promise to reconfigure institutions by enabling both the development of flexible value webs comprised of many organizations that operate with minimal, if any, management. Smart contracts that automatically execute the terms of agreements once specific conditions are met promise to bypass layers of administration and expand possibilities for true local control of schools, school districts, and other institution.

It’s hard to read the news and not see this driver throughout the headlines.  Looking at the open culture movement, we are seeing the desire for increased transparency and access to data as reflected by sites such as Data.gov, a central repository for U.S government data and part of President Obama’s effort to create a more open government. We also see the desire for openness through concerns about data ownership  and surveillance, both at the governmental level, as witnessed by the reaction to domestic spying, all the way to the consumer level, with recent headlines about privacy fears in connection with the the high-tech Barbie, which records  the conversations that children have with the toy and sends them to the cloud, where algorithms orchestrate responses. We see similar fears about Amazon’s in-home robot, Alexa, centering on concerns about what Amazon might do with the data generated from the interactions between Alexa and its owners.

Encryption technologies, more specifically the blockchain technology being used to power the crypto-economy, are also receiving a lot of media attention. Blockchain, the digital ledger that supports bitcoin, can be thought of as a chain with many links. When a transacation is made with bitcoin, the blockchain records the transaction, creating a new link in the chain. The algorithms that run blockchain operate on thousands of computers, creating a distributed database. Because the transactions are recored as a chain, the data is unmutable. Blockchain has been the subject of countless articles ranging from speculation to its use in voting; to the creation of self-managing organizations which require minimal, if any, human guidance;  to actual use cases of blockchain being used to verify and authenticate academic records and to create self-executing wills.

Looking across these trends, what might the Smart Transactional Models driver of change mean for the future of learning? Our forecast highlights several possibilities:

  • Learning ecosystems could make use of blockchain technology in conjunction with new data flows to allow ecosystems to improve themselves automatically and continuously.
  • A universal student record consisting of comprehensive student data could follow the learner through the education lifecycle.
  • Smart contracts that connected learners with distributed transportation systems, food service, and other supports could enable them to pursue learning experiences beyond the walls of traditional school.

As these images of the future suggest, Smart Transactional Models has the potential to make a significant impact on the future of learning by changing the ways in which we struture and manage institutions. In fact, we think that blockchain has such potential to disrupt education that we are taking a deep dive into the topic for a publication due out later this year.

In what ways do you see Smart Transactional Models affecting education? Do you think the open culture movement and innovations in encryption technologies have the potential to change learning in significant ways?


Photo credit (top): Perspecsys Photos

Jason Swanson

Written by: Jason Swanson

Jason Swanson is the Director of Strategic Foresight at KnowledgeWorks. He has a strong passion for studying the future and believes that studying the future is empowering.

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