Blockchain-based credentials initiative moves forward

Certificates on the blockchain allow individuals to hold and share digital proof of their education and employment

Learning Machine and MIT Media Lab’s Learning Initiative have released the first version of an open-source project that builds an ecosystem for creating, sharing, and verifying blockchain-based educational credentials.

These certificates can be collected by individuals and shared directly with anyone who requires official documents. It’s as simple as sending a link. The Bitcoin blockchain is currently being used as the secure anchor of trust to ensure that each certificate is authentic, unchanged, and still valid.

Subsequent releases will make it more useful for real-world adoption: certificate versioning, revocation, cohort issuance, cost reduction, and privacy considerations for encrypting documents that contain highly private information, like academic transcripts.

Chris Jagers, Co-Founder and CEO of Learning Machine, explained, “The goal of our collaboration with the MIT Media Lab is to empower individuals with shareable credentials that can be used peer-to-peer and verified as authentic. The current system for sharing official records is slow, complicated, expensive, and broken for everyone in a myriad of ways. The first generation of students to grow up entirely during the Internet age have started applying for college, and many admissions officers can share stories about applicants trying to text photos of their academic records. The expectation, while seemingly humorous, conveys an honest impression about the way things should work. It should be that easy for people to share certified records directly with others and have them trusted as authentic.”

“Blockchain verification flips the current power arrangement in higher education by giving learners control over their official documents,” said Learning Machine President and COO, Dan Hughes. “Today, most evidence of achievement is bottled up in a proprietary information system or stored unofficially on a piece of paper framed on a wall or lost in a box in the garage. Jailbreaking the credential is about every learner being able to directly see and share verified evidence of what they have achieved. A curated view of one’s achievements, shared at whatever level of granularity is appropriate, puts the learner’s privacy and self-expression on equal footing with institutional demand for proof.”

Learning Machine Cultural Anthropologist, Natalie Smolenski, explained the technology’s social and institutional impact: “For the past several years, co-curricular transcripts have engendered lots of excitement among educators as a way of highlighting student achievement holistically, including those activities that take place beyond the classroom. This created a new challenge, however: how could any one institution adequately curate all of this activity, much of which occurs beyond its purview? With verified digital credentials, the organizing principle shifts from issuers to the individual. Learners now have the power to curate their own, appropriately tailored, co-curricular transcripts from across all of their verified education and experience. That is the mission at the heart of this project.”

This effort represents the first step in a broader undertaking that is focused on creating new technologies and collaborating to evolve standards that lift the entire ecosystem. The project builds on Learning Machine’s robust track record of forward thinking enterprise software delivered at scale and the Media Lab Learning Initiative’s world-class research engineering.


Could Microsoft’s LinkedIn revolutionize competency-based learning?

Higher education consultants say the Microsoft and LinkedIn pairing may change the competency game.

LinkedIn has the user data and focus on competency-based employment skills and career advancement. Microsoft has the computational ability to turn CBE into an HR goldmine. So will the Microsoft and LinkedIn pairing yield the innovation and validation needed to propel competency-based learning to its full revolutionary potential?

Take Our Poll

Key Points:

  • Higher education investment companies say Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn has the potential to change the way employers hand-pick future employees via online learning credentials.
  • Consultants say LinkedIn is the only place where hundreds of millions of people voluntarily giving their longitudinal job and education history—which could allow for unique analyses of what certifications actually lead to improved career paths.
  • Though consultants say Microsoft likely has “too much to lose by competing against traditional universities,” with whom it has close partnerships, it could easily dominate the corporate training market.

(Next page: Overview of what college and university career credentialing programs should know about the Microsoft and LinkedIn pairing)


Students say campus technology needs major overhaul–but why?

Report on student opinions regarding campus technology includes infographic; take the eCampus News poll to voice your own opinion.


According to a new report, thanks to a lack of digital options and tedious online protocols part of many campus technology initiatives, students say they study less and think less of their university.

Take our poll and view infographic here.

Key Points:

  • One-third of students feel student administration systems do not meet their expectations, making them less likely to recommend the institution.
  • Unit4, an enterprise applications for service organizations company revealed this result as part of a multi-national research study on students’ perceptions of their campus technology.
  • The survey also found that 7 in 10 students would recommend that their universities review and change its digital strategy.

(Next page: Overview; suggestions students have for campus technology improvement)


Two schools earn highest level of online learning endorsement

Expanded OLC Quality Scorecard measures excellence in the administration of online or blended learning programs within higher education institutions

The Online Learning Consortium (OLC), a professional organization devoted to advancing the quality of digital learning worldwide, announced that the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Baker College have earned the OLC Quality Scorecard Exemplary Endorsement, recognizing the outstanding quality of their online learning programs.

“The concept of quality in online education can be elusive and complex,” said Kathleen Ives, DM, chief executive officer and executive director, OLC. “The OLC Quality Scorecard enables administrators to identify, measure and quantify elements of quality within their online education programs. UWL and Baker College offer tremendous models of excellence in online learning, and we are delighted to be able to recognize their exemplary programs with the Quality Scorecard’s highest level of endorsement.”

The OLC Quality Scorecard uses research-based benchmarks and standards of excellence to help higher education institutions evaluate their online learning programs. Institutions use the scorecard to determine strengths and opportunities for improvement of their programs, and to initiate planning efforts to address areas that require enhancement.

In addition to giving an institution a means to convey confidence in the quality of its programs to prospective students, the scorecard can be used to demonstrate the quality of online programs to higher education accrediting bodies. Plus, it can serve as an internal planning tool for institutions launching new programs or transforming mature programs.

Peer Review and Endorsement

The interactive Quality Scorecard is completed by the institution and submitted for peer review along with evidence to support its submission. After a thorough review process, the institution receives a final score along with prescriptive feedback from the three-member peer review team.

Institutions scoring 180 or higher are granted OLC’s Seal of Endorsement, which is valid for a period of two years. Institutions like the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Baker College that score 202 or higher are granted an additional seal, acknowledging and verifying their “exemplary” programs. Exemplary programs are endorsed for a period of three years. Additional levels of endorsement and feedback provide institutions requiring improvement with a path to endorsement.

Expanding the Scorecard to Assess Specialized Disciplines and Attributes

OLC continues to expand the Quality Scorecard with specialized versions, including a scorecard specifically for blended learning programs, and another that has been translated into Spanish. With support from a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, OLC is also adding a digital courseware ancillary scorecard that will focus on attributes which result in a positive impact on student success, especially for students from minority, first-generation, low-income or other disadvantaged backgrounds. The digital courseware scorecard is expected to be available in Fall 2016.

More information about the OLC Quality Scorecard is available at


Data, data, data

Catch up on the most compelling higher-ed news stories you may have missed this week

Every Friday, I’ll recap some of the most interesting and thought-provoking news developments that occurred over the week.

I can’t fit all of this week’s news stories here, though, so feel free to visit and read up on other news you may have missed.

This week’s news is all about data, from new initiatives and platforms designed to deliver more targeted data to campus administrators, to the ways that data trends just might be harder to predict than you thought. One thing’s for certain, though–data plays a massive role in campus operations, and keeping up-to-date with the latest data developments is essential.

Read on for more:

Whoa: Stunning data on class of 2015 employment
In the echoes of poor employment rates upon graduation that have spurred colleges and universities to reimagine and reinvest how they help their graduates enter into a career, a new report on the class of 2015 may just signal the light at the end of a turbulent storm.
Trend: Online learning going personal
Personalized support and advising achieved through new advances in technology and data analytics are all recommended for helping today’s online students.
4 ways data could be tricking you
Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics co-author, explains why using data to predict future trends is trickier than you may think.
Data analytics initiative aims to increase retention
McGraw-Hill Education, a learning science company, and ZogoTech, a provider of predictive data analytics services to higher education institutions, have entered into an agreement providing McGraw-Hill Education exclusive rights to sell the data firm’s proven services.


Are private sector schools doomed to fail?

Analysts describe 4 characteristics of “healthy” private sector schools; include tech career alternative programs.

Newsworthy failures in proprietary higher education have led to generalizations about the career school sector as a whole. Most think of for-profits as a homogeneous group, but the reality is that few are failing. The business model of a small school that trains people to run an MRI machine or fix an air conditioner is very different than that of a large public company that offers a diverse array of certificates and degrees.

Members of the latter group get a lot of press due to their national presence, and, indeed, many are struggling. But smaller institutions make up the majority of private sector schools. There are 3,000 private sector institutions in the U.S. serving 3.5 million students according to the industry trade group, Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU). And the programs these schools offer run the gamut, from bachelor degree programs to skills development and career training.

Observation of Velocify’s 150+ higher education clients contradicts the notion of widespread failure. In fact, over the past four quarters, 89 percent of Velocify education clients that have made any change to their accounts have added user licenses to accommodate larger admissions teams, an indication of growing enrollment (of the Velocify education clients in the past four completed quarters [2Q15-1Q16] that have added or subtracted enrollment representative seats [i.e. grown or contracted], 89 percent have added seats.]

Both Velocify and First Analysis have observed a number of somewhat consistent factors that separate healthy schools from those that are struggling.

Survival of the Fittest

Though no two institutions are the same, Velocify client schools that have weathered recent storms often share one or more of the following attributes:

1. An emphasis on workforce development. Staying true to the original mission of career schools by providing job skills training has been a source of sustained viability for many. And that strategy continues to have upside potential. According to a recent survey by the Business Roundtable, more than 95 percent of American CEOs believe their companies suffer from a skills shortage.

Adult students, too, are showing greater interest in career skills development via alternative credential programs. According to education analyst firm Eduventures, 76 percent of adult learners expressed interest in courses or programs that would advance their knowledge and skills but would not count toward a degree. The firm also expects acceleration of alternatives and complements to traditional degree programs (e.g., boot camps, competency-based education), touting faster, cheaper programs and enhanced employability.

Certificate style ‘boot camp’ programs that provide software development training are a relatively new category that’s seeing significant growth. In addition, while these programs are known primarily for training related to software development, they’ve expanded their programs, with some now offering data science, marketing, and other (primarily technology-related) vocational programs.

(Page 2: 3 other characteristics of thriving private sector schools)


New knowledge discovery service launched specifically for higher education

Yewno for Education launches for universities; Vertical premium service already in hands of elite academic libraries and research centers.

Yewno, a new approach to knowledge discovery aimed at enhancing human understanding via an inference hub, today announced the launch of its first vertical offering, Yewno for Education.

A premium service designed for academic and research institutions, Yewno for Education is a connected system of curated content facilitating deeper knowledge discovery, or hyperknowledge, by mimicking the way the human brain connects related yet disparate concepts to achieve deeper learning.

Designed for academic researchers, Yewno for Education combines the most powerful components of computational linguistics, semantic analysis, neural networks and data visualization to usher in a new era of enlightened knowledge discovery. With a database of close to 50 million vetted, high-quality pieces of content, some dating back almost 200 years, Yewno counts more than two dozen publishers and content aggregators among its launch partners including Oxford University Press, Springer Nature, and Taylor & Francis Group. Already used at some of the world’s elite universities including Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Stonehill College, Yewno can ingest and utilize an academic institution’s existing content and subscriptions, and is complementary to existing search tools.

“Yewno mirrors the human mind’s own lateral thinking by pulling together and synthesizing analogous yet unrelated concepts to achieve deeper learning,” said Ruggero Gramatica, CEO and Founder, Yewno. “It generates results that evoke our natural abilities, using computational modeling to elegantly present both abstract knowledge and concrete linkage patterns in a visual matrix. The outcome is a transformation in creative capacity and critical thinking.”

Despite the complex technology driving Yewno for Education’s knowledge discovery platform, discovering and engaging with topics and related information is incredibly simple. Developed for research scholars and undergraduate students alike, Yewno for Education allows users to point-and-click their way to a comprehensive landscape of correlating knowledge in the form of a content column that appears along the right-hand side of the screen, providing a summary of the given concept and links to information sources. When users have identified the concepts that interest them most, they can connect to the details using multi-hop functionality which instantaneously reconfigures all of the relevant information to show the recalculated relationships between the selected concepts. Moreover, users can access the content sources straight from the relevant section where the concepts and links are referred.

Moreover, any concepts can be connected when a user hovers over a connecting line and an information icon appears that can be clicked to reveal new relationships. This allows anyone to intuitively explore a topic by navigating through correlated information and delve deeper into the rationale of how certain topics are related thus making it possible to explore cross-disciplinary details and find connections that otherwise would go unnoticed.

In addition, students at virtually any institution can utilize the power of Yewno for Education by taking advantage of open online and in-library computer access from participating institutions. Then, using the interlibrary loan program, a student can request target source materials identified during the knowledge discovery process for further reading and research.

Content categories represented in Yewno include medicine, business, humanities, engineering and technology, social sciences, education, biological sciences, creative arts and design, computer science, agriculture and related sciences, mass communications, physical sciences, legal, architecture and planning, mathematical sciences, and interdisciplinary or “undecided” determinants.

Future Offerings

Yewno for Education is the first in a series of premium services for vertical markets including financial and investment services, life sciences and news. Each specific offering will include high-quality, vetted content contextually relevant to the needs of professional users. Yewno’s vertical market offerings require per-seat license agreements with organizations and enterprises.

Academic Customers Already Using Yewno for Education

“At the library our scholars often tell us that while they love the immediate access of online research, they miss the serendipitous discoveries that wandering in the stacks can provide,” said Suzanne Wones, Director of Library Digital Strategies and Innovation, Harvard Library. “Yewno offers a way to experience both – the delight of discovering unexpected connections and the efficiency of high-performance computing.”

“At MIT we are looking to engage the community’s imagination in terms of innovative ways of discovering new connections and ideas,” said Chris Bourg, PhD, Director, MIT Libraries. “Yewno provides a completely different perspective on information and could be one of the key ways of doing this.”

“I don’t call it a search engine, I call it a discovery environment because it recurrently allows researchers and students to go back to the original concepts they started with, or supported ones, and shape and reshape their hypotheses of engagement based on ideas, not based solely on expressions,” said Michael Keller, Vice Provost, Academic Council, Stanford University Libraries. “This changes the world. I’ve been looking all my life for ways to get around the limitations of language and technology, and data formats that are restrictive. I believe that Yewno technology will enhance research in ways that we can only begin to imagine.”

“Student motivation includes learning and meeting deadlines. When students are overwhelmed by the vast resources available to them, they sometimes choose to settle for initial research results and don’t delve further into information to find the best sources,” said Cheryl McGrath, Director, MacPháidín Library. “I’m excited to incorporate Yewno for Education at Stonehill College and help students access and visualize how they can incorporate high-quality content as they develop their ideas. In presentations to faculty and students conducting research, they have found new connections that are helping them to learn what are the questions they need to be asking and where they can find the answers.”

About Yewno

Founded in 2011, Yewno is sparking curiosity, passion and the thirst for knowledge by building a new category of knowledge discovery that mimics how the human mind intuitively makes conceptual connections, allowing for dynamic linkages between related yet unstructured data. Yewno comprises a team of hands-on entrepreneurs, engineers and data scientists who have experience with technology startups and publicly-traded stalwarts alike. Headquartered in Silicon Valley with offices in London, Yewno is venture-funded by Pacific Capital and has established more than two dozen partnerships across top research universities, publishers and content aggregators worldwide. For more information, visit



Freakonomics author: 4 ways data could be tricking you

Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics co-author, explains why using data to predict future trends is trickier than you may think.

When higher ed leaders discuss big data these days, as well as its potential to help predict future trends and, therefore, courses of action, stories about turkey breasts, hand washing and monkey sex don’t also make the rounds; but according to the Freakonomics author, they should.

“What people say they feel or say they do versus what they actually do are often two completely different things,” explained Stephen J. Dubner, journalist, author and this year’s Infocomm 2016 Las Vegas keynoter. “And this is what makes the use of data tricky whenever industry looks to it for answers in behavior.”


For colleges and universities looking to big data to extrapolate courses of action regarding everything from admissions to learning outcomes, never has the time to invest in its study (data science) or in very skilled data analysts been more critical. Within three very specific anecdotal stories, Dubner reminds everyone that there are four reasons why looking to data for all the answers will be one of the hardest tasks education has ever tackled.

So before higher ed admin and leadership invest time and money in data analysis, be sure the data your institution has collected is first and foremost, accurate.


1. There Will Be Unforeseen Correlations

Trailing what seemed to be a somewhat banal statement that “economists can’t predict everything,” Dubner gave the glaring example of the 2012 recession, saying that “zero percent of economists predicted the Great Recession, otherwise known as their job.”

“The reason for this,” he continued, “is because as we advance in this age and increasingly rely on data to help predict the future, it often can’t. And one of the reasons it often can’t is because there are too many unforeseen variables.”

Dubner gave the example of artificial insemination…for turkeys.

Probably unbeknownst to many, turkeys raised for slaughter no longer procreate. Why? Because they are physically unable.

“As the health movement swept across the country and more people turned to white meat consumption, farmers began raising turkeys that had especially large breasts to produce the demanded white meat. As a consequence, these large-breasted turkeys have chests so large they are unable to procreate, and farmers had to invest in using labs to artificially inseminate female turkeys.”

(Next page: People often lie)


More than 30 colleges, universities partner on digital learning initiative

University of California, Davis, Utah Valley University, Brigham Young University-Provo, and Brigham Young University-Idaho among institutions committed to increasing access to high-quality, affordable digital learning content

Pearson has announced partnerships with more than 30 colleges and universities to deliver digital course materials to students through a variety of delivery models, most working through campus bookstores.

Through these digital delivery models, Pearson is collaborating with institutions that are committed to providing students with access to high-quality, affordable content on the first day of class that improves educators’ insights into students’ instructional needs through better access to learning data.

The University of California (UC), Davis partnered with Pearson in 2015 to provide students with direct access to digital course materials through the campus bookstore. Since launching the program, the university has digitally delivered required course materials for more than 150 courses. UC Davis typically delivers required course content for 40 or more courses per quarter using this model, a number that continues to grow.

On the value that students and faculty are seeing in this model, Jason Lorgan, Executive Director of UC Davis Stores said, “Delivering content digitally to our students before the first day of class, without a visit to the bookstore, has been game-changing for our campus. Faculty and students greatly appreciate the day-one access for everyone enrolled in the course. Students are reporting significant levels of satisfaction with this delivery method and find the adaptive digital content to be superior to static print content in our student surveys. Seventeen thousand of our students have engaged with this program since it began and we expect its rapid growth to continue. We consider this program an important part of our course material affordability initiatives.”

Students at the Utah Valley University, Brigham Young University-Provo, and Brigham Young University-Idaho can purchase digital course materials from their schools’ bookstores, beginning in spring 2016. The State University of New York at Oswego is launching five to 10 courses in the fall of 2016.

“We’re collaborating with an increasing number of institutions to establish an effective and sustainable affordability model that helps control the overall cost of education and delivers equitable, immediate access to learning materials for all students,” said Tom Malek, Senior Vice President of Partnerships, Pearson. “What’s also of great interest to our institutional partners is the meaningful real-time learning data available to faculty and institutions when all students in a course are able to use a common digital product. This data can be used to help faculty identify and intervene with at-risk students, focus instruction on the areas where students are struggling most, and document that course learning outcomes are being measured effectively.”

According to the Campus Computing Project research findings from a fall 2015/winter 2016 survey, 45 percent of faculty respondents believe that digital materials provide significant added-value content not available in print.

Pearson’s long-standing partners that have successfully implemented the digital direct access models, including Indiana University, Cincinnati State Community College, and Eastern Gateway Community College, are now seeing the positive impact that day-one access to digital course materials can have on student engagement and achievement.

Indiana University will share the latest findings on a research study investigating the impact of their eText Initiative at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities 2016 Academic Affairs Summer Meeting. The presentation, “eText that Empowers: Leading the way to greater affordability and achievement with digital course materials” will be delivered Saturday, July 23 at 8:45 AM at the Denver Marriott City Center, Denver. Presenters include Anastasia Morrone, Ph.D., Associate Vice President of Learning Technologies at Indiana University, Dean of Information Technology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and Tom Malek, Senior Vice President of Partnerships, Pearson.