Mandatory lifelong learning? Teaching as required service?

When closed transcripts are replaced by open ledgers, and when we can pay down student debts by teaching what we’ve learned forward, how will the boundaries of our educational lives change?

At the Aspen Ideas Festival this week, we saw a burst of positive imagination around shifting age, community and geographic boundaries. Players saw participation in a new global learning system as a new form of democratic engagement, one that could last a lifetime. Although terms like “mandatory” and “required” can make this possible future seem like an extreme one, these ideas hint at just how much room there is to make things different.  Can you imagine…

Screenshot 2016-07-05 11.27.35Screenshot 2016-07-05 09.03.10

Screenshot 2016-07-05 11.34.06Screenshot 2016-07-05 11.33.57Screenshot 2016-07-05 11.32.16Screenshot 2016-07-05 11.32.01Screenshot 2016-07-05 11.31.17Screenshot 2016-07-05 11.28.11Screenshot 2016-07-05 11.28.32 Screenshot 2016-07-05 09.05.48




3 Big Ideas from the Aspen Ideas Festival

More than 100 leaders in the field of higher education attended the Aspen Ideas Festival this past week, where they helped brainstorm innovative ways to  connect learning and earning in the future.

Screenshot 2016-07-05 09.59.29

Here are 3 of the ideas that generated the most discussion among the university presidents, policy-makers and startup founders present — all of which underscore the need for technologies like the Ledger.

1. “The typical college student is not who you think it is” – and new learning platforms and should be designed for the 95%, not the 5%

Who are today’s college students? The answer surprises most people who attended four year universities, according to Jamie Merisotis, President and CEO of Lumina Foundation. Addressing audiences, like the one he spoke to Friday at The Aspen Ideas Festival, co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, he frequently poses this question: “What percentage of students in American higher education today graduated from high school and enrolled in college within a year to attend a four year institution and live on campus?”

Most people guess “between forty and sixty percent,” he said, whereas “the correct answer is five percent.” There is, he argued, “a real disconnect in our understanding of who today’s students are. The influencers––the policy makers, the business leaders, the media––have a very skewed view of who today’s students are.”

The conversations we’ve been having at represent new possibilities for all, but especially for this under-acknowledged and under-innovated-for 95%.

And the numbers will only get bigger: Another 50 million college students are expected to seek out higher education by the year 2025 who will fall into this category of working learners.

According to the research, this group’s primary goal in seeking out higher education is “as a way to acquire training and a certificate of hireability.” In other words, this groups wants clear pathways to employment, and more engagement with future employers throughout their college coursework.

Which leads us to…

2. “Work colleges” reduce student debt and leads to higher employment – Can new online learning platforms borrow their best practices?

Michael Sorrell, President of Paul Quinn College, which aims to be the 8th federally recognized “work college” in the U.S., participated in our July 1 afternoon Learning is Earning brainstorm. He shared an institutional vision that colleges should be helping students become better workers, not just better learners. “Many first-generation college students aren’t just under-prepared for college coursework, they’re under-prepared for work. They may come from backgrounds where employment in their community is a constant struggle, where there are not good models for stable full-time work.” At Paul Quinn, all students are required to work 120 hours a semester, in jobs provided by the university and chosen to instill a range of professional and collaborative work skills; the students receive a tuition rebate of $1200 a semester in return.

Teaching students how to work in professional environments, and shifting them away from the entry-level service jobs that most would otherwise pursue as part-time work, can help the students get double the growth during their college time. They’re not just earning a college degree, they’re also learning how to earn. (They also graduate with far less debt.)

One creative thought emerged: Should all colleges grant work transcripts in addition to coursework transcripts? If more than 70% of learners have jobs, can colleges actively seek to represent the skills and knowledge acquired in that context alongside their classwork?

Some additional background on the work college model:

Work Colleges share two fundamental beliefs. First, that a college experience should educate the whole person. Second, earning a college degree shouldn’t require a lifetime of debt. Through an innovative approach of Work-Learning-Service, all Work College students offset college costs by participating in a mandatory work program and performing service in their communities. Most work positions are limited to 8 -15 hours per week and designed to enhance a student’s academic studies. The Work-Learning-Service approach teaches students the critical balance of study, service to others and managed work expectations.

According to alumni, four years of purposeful work has a lifetime payoff. Graduates of Work Colleges enter their careers prepared with real world skills, and owing reduced or no debt. Research confirms that a Work–Learning–Service approach to higher education builds character, work ethic, leadership and competence in critical thinking and time management skills. These attributes are directly transferrable to the workplace and among the characteristics employers say they seek the most. More supporting info from the National Association of Colleges and Employers here.

A Work College experience is very different from just ‘working while in college’. Enhanced work and service at Member Colleges deliberately exposes students to people, places and practices that are new and different. All Work Colleges emphasize the value of community, social equity and teamwork. – Work Colleges Consortium

Work colleges are a model which has been around for 100 years but is only now starting to get attention from the start-up world. Could new platforms like the Learning Ledger help scale up this model of work colleges, to reach the next 50 million college students? Noted investor Mark Cuban, for example, has been advising President Sorrell on technology strategy for Paul Quinn College — leading them to move to using exclusively open-source textbooks, to virtually eliminate the cost of textbooks entirely for their students.

Could a technology platform like the Learning Ledger arise from the intersection of the start-up world with the innovation happening at traditional work colleges? This is an under-the-radar and important place to watch for signals of the future.

3. “Taking more courses, faster, may help solve the college debt crisis” – and Blockchain learning credits could fill this learning gap

New research suggests that students are more likely to complete their degree and finish with less debt if they take a more ambitious courseload in their first semester – despite the conventional wisdom and common advice to working learners to take a limited first semester courseload as the new students adjust to the demands of college learning.

A report produced by Clive Belfield, Davis Jenkins, and Hana Lahr and published by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University finds that students in Tennessee who took on 15 course credits rather than the traditional 12 in their first semester of college pay roughly 10 to 20 percent less per degree in tuition and fees. The researchers’ economic model shows community-college students save $1,560 per degree and four-year students save $12,800.

The heavier workload does not appear to weigh students down academically, either: Students kicking off their college careers with 15 credits had the same pass and fail rates in their courses as students with 12 credits in a term, suggesting the additional three credits didn’t overwhelm them.

Many students choose to take 12 credits because that’s the minimum level needed to receive the maximum dollar award through their Pell grants—government aid largely dedicated to lower-income students. But too few courses may persuade students to quit on higher ed. “If you take 12 and 12 (credits) in your first year, you probably end up with 20 credits,” Belfield said of a community-college student. “You might think to yourself, this is going to take me three solid years to get through this, and I can’t do that, so I’m just going to drop out.” – Read more in the Atlantic

What if college students could supplement their college credits each semester with a blockchain-powered credit from other learning sources? During our Learning is Earning replay at the festival, we imagined how existing colleges could take advantage of a decentralized learning platform like the Ledger.

Could students, for example, take 12 credits of formal coursework and receive 3 additional credits for “learning that happens anywhere”, including their workplaces and hobbies? The future of accelerated higher education may depend on colleges not only reporting their credits on the blockchain, but also allowing other learning sources to report via the blockchain to them.




Is it real, or is it the future?

Screenshot 2016-06-24 09.01.24

What we’ve seen over the past three months is a beautiful example of collective imagination.

2641 people with a stake in the future of higher education — teachers, students, administrators, designers — came together online to play an elaborate game of what if:

What if anyone, anywhere could be a teacher and grant learning credits to anyone else?

What if learning & credentialing were radically decentralized, the way money has been — a bitcoin for education?

What if a degree became more like an open ledger? What if no one ever “graduated”?

What if the assumption that education is completed before you start a career was turned on its head?

What if learning were treated like a currency that could be traded or built into compensation? What if you could get paid to learn?

These are the kinds of futures we’ve been imagining together. We think about these possible futures to develop intuition, empathy and foresight about how these kinds of changes might impact our lives. We consider what problems they might solve. We anticipate what new problems they might create. We talk about these futures in the public eye, with an open invitation to anyone who wants to imagine with us, so that everyone has the chance to expand or complicate our vision of what could be. This blog has collected many of the complicated and surprising visions, as has the game’s constantly updating graph of most provocative conversations.

But perhaps the most surprising outcome of our collective imagination has taken place away from the game — in emails, on social media, and national media, where again and again, the line between what’s already real and what’s the future has been blurred.

Soon after the launch of this game, we started receiving messages from individuals who seemed to believe that the edublock system was real. That IFTF and ACTF had actually created this platform.

People wrote to sign up to teach. Engineers offered to help scale up the platform. An angel investor wanted to know if we needed additional funding. A radio program with 12 million viewers invited the Ledger’s creators on the show to talk about what we were building.

One of my colleagues, on the heels of such an outreach, sent this note around: “This is my second very serious inquiry from someone who thought that the Ledger was a real thing. Can’t tell if people thinking Ledger is real is a good thing, a bad thing, a humorous thing, or…? Thoughts?”

Well, it’s no secret that as a futurist, you certainly hope that the picture you paint of a possible future is plausible and compelling enough that people believe it could be true. You want your forecast to be considered credible. You hope your provocative ideas will be taken seriously enough to lead to eye-opening conversations about all of the ways the world could be different.

But it’s not very often that a future forecast is mistaken as the present reality. And when it is, it tells us something very important about that future.

When so many people hear such a radical idea and think — “That sounds plausible.” “That sounds real.” — it’s valuable information about where people are today. It points to how broken the current system is, of paying for higher education, and of trying to complete your entire education before starting a career. Only something that is deeply felt by so many people as broken could make such a dramatic alternative seem so plausible, could make it so easy to believe that something else so radically different would come along and replace it.

It’s also a signal of how accustomed people have become in recent years to the sudden and massive disruption of industries by new technologies. Multiple generations have now seen legacy systems — first the music industry, then the book and later the entire retail industry, and now the transportation and hospitality industries. The youngest generations in particular, thanks to companies like AirBnB and Uber, seem to have a very easy time believing that things could be radically different. That’s interesting.

We are living in times where technologies make it possible to change massive legacy systems very quickly. We are living in times where people are willing to accept major changes quickly, especially when they create new opportunities for participation and more affordable access.

So, no, the Ledger is not real. But it is possible. And the desire by many to believe that it is real shows us that it’s not only possible technologically, but that something like this is wanted. And when a future is wanted by many, it becomes even more possible.

This collaboration between the ACT Foundation and the Institute for the Future has opened many eyes to what seems like an increasingly likely future. Blockchain is rapidly becoming the centerpiece of discussions about the future of online learning, degrees and credentialing, workplace learning, and higher education. So keep paying attention to the clues that this future is happening.

It’s not real, yet, and no one can say for sure that it’s the future either. But 2641 people and counting have actively imagined it. They’ve shared more than 10,000 stories about the lives they might lead in this future. The Ledger trended nationally on Twitter. And millions more have now heard about these ideas, thanks to NPR’s Marketplace and Educause.

Is it real, or is the future? Let’s keep deciding together. Use your positive imagination or your shadow imagination… and share one thing you would do in this world of learning unbound.




Thanks, SkillsUSA!

That’s a wrap, folks!

After 30 incredible hours, Learning is Earning 2026 at SkillsUSA has come to a close. Over that time we had 263 new players and 1,187 new ideas added to the conversation, the vast majority coming from high schoolers and community college students from across the United States.

Three young men and one woman leaning over tablets at TECHSPO booth and playing the game

The theme this year at SkillsUSA is Champions at Work: Connecting you to Career Success and we’re so glad we had the chance to work together to push that thinking into the future. Facing a of a world of constant change, we were blown away by the excitement and enthusiasm you brought to thinking about how to navigate that uncertain terrain.

Booth at the TECHSPO

SkillsUSA is filled with the best and the brightest in career and technical education, and we’ve been thrilled to get a chance to learn from you and how you think about the future. We can’t wait to see how you forge new paths and make the future that you want to see!

Next stop for Learning is Earning 2026 is the Aspen Ideas Festival on July 2nd. See you then!

Future Job Titles

In the future world of the next decade, continuous learning might enable new and creative jobs for people–more flexible education could lead to more flexible ways to make a living! A lot of awesome ideas have been popping up on the Learning is Earning 2026 Foresight Engine! Some of them are from the (not so far future):

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 3.32.33 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-22 at 3.34.42 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-22 at 3.35.02 PM

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 3.34.31 PM


While some people seem to think that no matter what, there are some things that are always going to be important:

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 3.41.22 PM

Learning medicine in 2026

The future of learning will impact many different industries, including health and medicine. Some of the players on the Learning is Earning Foresight Engine have been expressing hope that new forms of educational tracking will help improve medicine:

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 4.08.29 PM

Including some who envision that technology will directly contribute to better outcomes.

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 4.11.58 PM

Maybe learning anywhere, and learning that goes beyond a specific certification, could lead to more cross-sector innovations like this.

Tracking learning in new ways could even provide rewards for people forced into situations by chance. What if you could eventually get compensated for going through complicated health bureaucracy, by being able to prove you’re now knowledgeable about it?

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 4.10.14 PM

This kind of situational or experience-based wisdom is often under-represented. Maybe if real-world experiences can be valued more highly, surviving some traumatic or difficult experiences may eventually qualify someone as a better teacher or guide.

Teaching Soft Skills via Virtual Reality

We’re seeing virtual and augmented reality popping up everywhere — from Facebook’s purchase of Oculus Rift to applying it to sports practice.  Surely its applications can be extended to the future of the Ledger.

Player Lemon already sees this happening in terms of training:

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 1.07.41 PM


So when player YG asked for ideas on how to “teach some of the ‘softer’ skills that will be so crucial to the future (eg curiosity),”

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 1.21.15 PM


AR/VR immediately came to mind:

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 1.24.21 PM

Maru Duro agrees that VR can affect your behaviors:

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 1.24.30 PM


What might you want to teach/learn using VR/AR?


Human to Computer Interaction 1 – 0 Human to Human Interaction

With a system like the ledger we push further into a world of online communication and platforms to support interaction and learning. The evolvement of a system like this raise concerns around the consequences of technology and how the use of it potentially could harm our ability to interact with people around us IRL, making us only comfortable to interact when we’re online or in a virtual space.Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 11.58.37 AM

However some people think that a system like this could enhance our social ability as we become truly global and get to interact, learn and teach people all over the world.

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 12.04.39 PM

Teaching in an edublock world

In a world where learning is distributed and can happen anywhere, is there a need for specialized teachers?

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 10.39.00 AM


Player Shila Mulford brings up this really important point. If learning is happening everywhere, will teaching still be a necessary discipline?

Teachers are on the front lines of education, and provide a lot more than just content delivery. They can be counselors, mentors, and provocateurs along with bearers of knowledge. Perhaps if content delivery becomes a less important role, these other qualities will become more important.

Even if people are learning continuously, there will still be a need for guides, facilitators, and mentors to help people structure their journey through life, and provide clues and opportunities when they get stuck.

No matter what, there will always be people who love helping teach others, like Player RG_Beats:

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 10.55.47 AM

The danger and potential of tracking

Player MRH brought up a really good point about the possible downsides of constant, permanent tracking:

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 9.55.25 AM

Constant monitoring and tracking can lead to heavy consequences, which is why juvenile criminal records can be expunged or sealed under certain circumstances. What happens if we build a system without these special affordances?

However, if we plan properly, we can build technical systems that support the positive sides of greater personal data collection in education, as was brought up by Player Beth Biggerstaff:

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 9.58.06 AM

With greater data analytics, and finer-grained recording of educational activities. Things like “creativity” could finally be modeled and tracked, potentially providing more justification for funding in institutions.