At the Turning Point: Web3 and Education

I have been immersing myself in ed3, an emerging concept incorporating blockchain technology with education. In a article From Web3 to Ed3 – Reimagining Education in a Decentralized World, educators Atish Mistry, Blair Rorani, Scott David Meyer, and Vriti Saraf define ed3 as a model in which “learners own their education – validating their knowledge with decentralized technology.”

The authors propose that the future of education will use decentralized technologies owned by its builders and creators. This model of internet technology is now referred to as web3. Gavin Wood who coined the term “web3” in 2014 defines web3 as “a decentralized and fair internet where users control their own data, identity and destiny.”

Major venture capitalists and internet founders like Chris Dixon have invested billions of dollars to develop this technology. He has also written extensively about why this technology is going to be so important in our evolving world.

Web3 and Education

Educator, author, and thought leader Scott David Meyer uses Chris Dixon’s mental models to connect web3 to education. This is where the concept of ed3 develops some of its characteristics.

Ed3 and web3 emphasize ownership and decentralization. The web3 ecosystem is primarily made up of distributed ledger technology (blockchain), the metaverse, cryptocurrency, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). As an emerging technology, these terms can be challenging to conceptualize and explain. Many of them require entirely new mental models like the ones that Meyer adapted.

I decided to write about ed3 in order to build dialogue among educators as we begin the process of maneuvering this new technology. As educators, we need to have a prominent role in shaping its implementation. The models of education that will be implemented over the next 20 years will be influenced by the web3 technology stack.

Failure to Disrupt

Or will it?

A central thesis to Justin Reich’s book Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Can’t Transform Education is that technology by itself cannot disrupt education. His argument is that there are no shortcuts to large-scale institutional change. The scaling effects of technology conflict with the true innovation happening in smaller incremental improvements.

As an educator who considers himself a technologist, I rely heavily on Reich’s position. There is no free lunch. Technology cannot solve all our problems. It is important that we critique these new technologies making broad claims about the impact of a new app or software.

So how are ed3/web3 technologies any different?

Reich doesn’t speak directly to web3, but in his book, he provides a useful explanation of new technologies in general.

“The rhetorical tropes of disruption and charismatic technologies center around a heroic developer creating new technology that leads to the transformation of educational systems.”

And then a corollary to the “heroic developer” theory.

“Change won’t come from heroic developers or even technology firms, but from communities of educators, researchers, and designers oriented toward innovative pedagogy and a commitment to educational equity.”

Questioning the Heroic Developer

This viewpoint provides a valuable lens to critique web3’s potential for educational transformation. By definition, web3 is an internet technology that operates without a centralized authority. There is no “heroic developer” creating and distributing this new technology. Decentralization offers the potential for all of us (communities of educators, researchers, and designers) to lead the transformation.

We also need to look beyond decentralization and ownership for ways that web3 can support innovation in education. The last part of Reich’s second quote is critical, the orientation needs to be to pedagogy and equity. Any system that promises disruption or transformation that doesn’t support pedagogy and equity has no use in the future of education.

A New Future of Educational Change

I invite educators to join the discussion and push the conversation about web3 further. We need to examine what could happen when “learners own their education–validating their knowledge with decentralized technology”? How does this orientate communities of educators towards (Reich’s goal of) “innovative pedagogy and a commitment to educational equity”?

I created the following conjecture to help imagine the possibilities of a web3-driven education ecosystem. It combines the Reichian theory of technology with the definition of ed3 from the article. I call it the theory of educational change in web3.

Educational change will be propelled by communities driving ownership of their learning identities through decentralization enabling innovative pedagogy and a commitment to educational equity.

Final Questions

My theory of educational change in web3 is a lens to create a conversation around the potential of these technologies to reimagine our educational models. There are two primary questions that can be explored to amplify the discussion:

  1. How do decentralized technologies allow learners to own their education?
  2. How does the ownership of learning identities support innovative pedagogy and a commitment to educational equity?

You are all welcome to join me in this dialogue. Connect with me on LinkedIn or subscribe to my Ed3 Weekly newsletter. My goal is to get more educators involved in shaping the role of web3 technologies in education. Join in on the conversation and come build with us.