Blockchain is a term that has become a constant presence in conversations about cryptocurrencies and financial transactions. But blockchain is much more than just a buzzword. It is an invaluable tool used to verify the integrity of documents and transactions, a public ledger providing a trackable record of the path of currencies or pieces of information.
The technology is a crucial part of the cryptocurrency environment as it stores information about every step of a monetary transaction. As the ledger is part of the public record, everything happens in a decentralised way, independent of banks or other financial institutions. It is also a way to digitally transfer information in a way that proves it is reliable.
However, blockchain technology is also an important resource in other sectors, including the education industry. The innovative system results in information being stored securely and in such a way that it can be tracked and verified. As a result, credentials such as certificates and diplomas can be issued digitally, and blockchain will guarantee their integrity.
Before discussing how blockchain has changed the way digital credentials are issued nowadays, it is worth looking into how the technology works.
What is Blockchain?
As explained above, blockchain is fundamentally a public ledger. It is a database, but instead of storing information in tables, it keeps it in blocks, hence the name. This is what makes blockchain a reliable and verifiable way to track the path of a transaction. Each block has a specific data capacity, and when this limit is reached, that block is closed and added to the chain by linking it to the previous block. It is impossible to edit or change the block once it is filled, which means everything that comes after will be part of a new block.
Blockchain is innovative in the means by which it shares information and how publicly available it is. Since the information recorded on the blockchain can’t be altered, edited, or deleted, everything that is added to the database can be seen — and stored — by everyone.
Having all the blocks of information stored in a decentralised way means that a consensus mechanism must validate every transaction. Every transaction added to the chain will be verified by the nodes that are part of the network. This process is known as either proof of work (PoW) or proof of Stake (PoS).
In the proof of work process, computers have to solve a complex mathematical problem so that a new block is added to the chain.
Every piece of information added to the blockchain will generate a cryptographic function that is translated into a large number known as hash. When created, the hash can’t be used to access the original source of information, but it verifies its origin. Every hash in that blockchain will be the same length.
How reliable is blockchain?
Because the hash is the same across every one of the nodes storing the information if one single copy of the data is altered, all other copies are verified, and the edited version is quickly revealed to be fraudulent.
Blockchain is significantly more reliable and secure than other digital information storage methods. The network of blockchains continues to grow, which makes any alteration or attempt to attack the system an immensely difficult task.
Use of blockchain outside the financial sector
Even though blockchain is most often used concerning cryptocurrencies, this way of storing and tracking information is an invaluable resource for many different sectors.
For example, IBM has created the Food Trust blockchain, which tracks food products to prevent the transmission of diseases such as salmonella and E. coli. With the initiative, different food supply chain members have access to a shared record of the origins and routes of food items. This allows them to identify any possible points of contamination quickly.
Keeping track of documents and their authenticity is also a great use of blockchain. The technology can be used in the healthcare industry to safely store patients’ medical histories or, in the real estate industry, to keep property records up to date.
Blockchain in Higher Education
Now you know how reliable and verifiable the technology behind blockchain is, it will come as no surprise to learn that it is also used in the education sector. Since 2017, the University of Melbourne in Australia has used blockchain to issue digital certificates and diplomas, meaning that students’ copies are immutable, stored safely, and can be easily verified by future employers. Other educational institutions have also followed suit and are now issuing credentials through blockchain to prevent fraud and provide a reliable, decentralised public record of students’ academic track records.
As paper documents are gradually replaced in favour of this new digital format, a system that can ensure the authenticity of these certificates is increasingly necessary.
Benefits of blockchain for credentials
The blockchain is a database that anyone can access with information that is virtually impossible to alter, damage, or destroy. As a result, anyone can use the system to verify if a person’s credentials – such as certificates, diplomas, or licences – are real or fake.
Unfortunately, due to the competitiveness of the job market and the importance recruiters give to diplomas and certificates, forgeries are common. Working through blockchain networks ensures these documents’ authenticity while registering a student’s or potential employee’s entire educational history.
Using blockchain is, therefore, much more reliable than other methods of storing data. It is also more efficient because it is easily accessible by anyone and can be readily verified. Recruiters do not need to send the documents out to third parties for assessment. Students and professionals also don’t need to update their credentials, manage copies, or track where they store their documents.
How do blockchain credentials work?
The benefits of digitally stored, easily verifiable credentials are clear, but how exactly do they work?
There are three main actors in the issuance of digital credentials. The first one is the issuer, who will publish a certificate, diploma or licence. They can be a university, a school, a government agency or any other educational institution usually issuing these documents.
In the case of digital credentials issued through blockchain, a unique signature – the hash – will be used to attest to the integrity of the document.
The second actor is the learner. This is the person who has gone through the process of earning a credential, either by completing a course or taking a test. The learner can share their credentials with whoever they need: a recruiter, an employer, another educational institution, and so on. These latter parties are the verifiers – the third actor in this relationship triad.
With certifications issued through the use of blockchain, the verifiers can check for themselves which issuer created the credential and check if the document was indeed issued for said learner. Additionally, there is now no need for the verifier to contact the issuer to ensure the document is genuine, removing another possible delay in the process.
Characteristics of blockchain credentials
Every digital credential issued in the blockchain will contain encrypted metadata, which will provide information about the document. Through metadata, verifiers can quickly identify the issuer of the credential, when the document was created, when the credential expires, and the identity of the recipient and owner of the document.
If the learner or holder wishes not to share certain information with verifiers, they can select which data to disclose. The blockchain won’t allow people to access personal information, as it only contains numbers that will be used to verify the credential.
Blockchain is a concept that is primarily and most often associated with the financial sector. Still, as a result of it providing an easy way to track and verify documents and information, the technology has matured into an invaluable tool for many other industries.
In the education field, blockchain can help prevent fraud and add credibility to institutions issuing certifications. Being part of the blockchain network means that the issuer has a secure and accurate record of their students’ certifications and academic history.
Due to the fact that data stored through the blockchain is immutable and permanent, it is also a more reliable way for learners and institutions to manage important documents, as well as making sharing them with third parties even more accessible and safer.
Blockchain offers far more than just a way of conducting financial transactions with cryptocurrencies. In practice, it also provides an extra layer of credibility and security for handling any critical document or piece of information. When it comes to ensuring that licences, certifications, and credentials are authentic, as well as that the holder has genuinely followed the proper process to possess and have access to these documents, blockchain is no longer optional — it is crucial.
I co-founded Diplomasafe to initially help eradicate credential fraud…..Today our platform also helps education institutions to significantly reduce the resources they spend on creating, issuing and verifying transcripts and diplomas to and by their students.
We help them utilise the latest technologies in the credentials space to safe keep and secure their students credentials for life. We enhance student mobility and credential transparency and give learners and graduates of our customers, the benefits of truly digital proof of education, that can be verified anywhere in the world as credible and trustworthy credentials that are also shared as achievements on LinkedIn and Facebook, to help boost the personal brand of the student and the issuer of course.
I am passionate about the concept of providing people who has put in the effort, with proof that cannot be tamped with or copied. It should not be possible to fly a plain without a license, practice medicine with a medical degree or board a rig and not no what to in case of emergency. Knowledge is power!