Smart contracts, the self-executing marvels of blockchain infamy, are still a relatively new concept. Ethereum was the first blockchain to propagate smart contract functionality in 2015, yet in these last few years it has become the epicenter of decentralized utility. For all the efficiency that bitcoin lent to the financial sector and fiat money—eliminating middlemen, quickening transactions, and reducing fees—smart contracts give in kind to transactional business flows in virtually every industry. This feature reduces overhead and can encourage creative new dynamics between participants of the same services.
Instead of signing a contract and then manually handling payment and delivery per the agreement, smart contracts can accomplish all these activities autonomously. Smart contracts rely on blockchain’s immutable ledger to determine when to act, and how. In the supply chain and logistics industry, for example, shippers can employ Internet of Things devices to constantly upload the temperature and location of each cargo container to the ledger. Due diligence required to verify goods at each point on the supply chain can be done automatically by smart contracts that know when goods have arrived and what state they’re in before giving the go-ahead (or warning) without human input. Fulfillment centers at the shipment’s destination can then reduce their margin of error when estimating lead times, allowing them to offer more competitive prices to buyers.
The smallest inefficiencies in any process can be tackled with an intelligently developed smart contract, but the service marketplace is a different beast. It’s true that transactional activities are a smart contract’s milieu, but what about when people are transacting in something that’s completely intangible? Such is the problem facing the educational sector which has just started to employ smart contracts in pursuit of its own renaissance.
Educating the Educators
A worthy purpose for smart contracts in the educational sphere is to increase access for the least privileged students. The service marketplace is difficult to consolidate as the “goods” for delivery are immaterial. Therefore, it’s largely been institutionalized, where the best teachers and tutors are gathered behind ivy-covered gates for only those individuals who can afford tuition to enter. This is somewhat ironic, considering that those with specialized skills and knowledge should be able to set the price to acquire it. However, schools represent a centralized institution whereby purveyors of this knowledge sell it to those willing to pay, with administration there to ensure quality and serve as the intermediary between teachers and students.
The biggest problem with this system is that it leaves out students who can’t afford the prices that schools charge for tuition. For the benefits that institutional educational systems do provide—quality control, aggregated expertise, and degrees—they’ve priced out many of those who stand to benefit most from an education. It’s gotten easier to acquire knowledge with the web, but there is a huge gap between the proliferation of internet access and smartphones, and the spread of accessible education services.
The current internet’s market for educational services, tutoring, and other skill acquisition lessons is fragmented and of questionable quality. Smart contracts, and those on blockchain specifically, are the best chance that the world’s most neglected students have. Their collective fate rests in the capable hands of some of the most innovative blockchain companies around, which is more than encouraging.
Building a School on Blockchain
A blockchain that consolidates service providers and connects them directly to students would serve a higher purpose in many Asian countries where education is strictly institutionalized. Mandatory, rigid schooling schedules in China and an overabundance of students means that those who are poorer, slower to grasp certain concepts, or challenged socially will fall behind fast. Teachers juggling hundreds of pupils have little time or incentive to give personal attention to those who need it, and students who get the short end of the stick are left with few alternatives. The culture itself discourages personal attention, favoring conformity instead, and outsiders are ignored rather than cheered to join the pack.
In a country where the all-important college entrance exam is known to put struggling students deep into depression, a more flexible approach is needed. To answer this call, CoooCoin is already establishing a service marketplace on blockchain, which will create a centralized, easily searchable, and quality-controlled database of services for all vocations. Whether tutors for education, professional advancement, or entertainment, safe and secure agreements using smart contract technology are the glue that holds it all together. Smart contracts successfully overcome the various obstacles that have caused other ambitious platforms to fail. Namely, they’re low-overhead (saving money which would have otherwise required a fee model), enforceable (ledger data and a reviews system keeps teachers and students accountable), and incorporate smart charitable functionality as well.
Enabling access to the economically underprivileged is the purpose of CoooNet, a peripheral service hosted by CoooCoin that assigns donor funds to the neediest students and matches them with volunteer experts as well. All students and teachers on CoooCoin can meet with the company’s comprehensive online whiteboard suite, which includes video and text chat, scanning, image linking and more. Another revolutionary idea using the blockchain for education is ODEM, or the On-Demand Education Marketplace. ODEM creates a different sort of gig economy whereby students who want to learn a topic can post a request, and the system will ping its most relevant experts to respond. With an ever-growing database of answered requests and courses, ODEM relies on AI technology to scan and identify specific solutions for those with a tough question.
BitDegree takes a different approach to on-chain education, by gamifying subjects like development and letting students earn achievements and rewards for their efforts. Smart contracts enable BitDegree to offer what the company refers to as ‘smart incentives’. Through its unique model, BitDegree uses decentralized contract power to automatically release coins to students who are doing well, but also to reward those who create highly viewed content like tutorials, eBooks or courses.
An Equitable Education
In the future, blockchain will create a strong backbone for the spread of decentralized learning. Whether for professionals looking to learn a new skill and climb the corporate ladder, or students who need to brush up on their Cold War history, smart contracts encourage reliable remote relationships between knowledge suppliers and individuals hungry to learn more. The educational sector has admittedly been slow to catch on to the blockchain phenomenon, but the space itself and transitively its students, will eventually be amongst its greatest beneficiaries.
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