Blockchain and Education (Part 1)

Two Days that Changed our World

Change can be frightening, and the temptation is often to resist it. But change almost always provides opportunities – to learn new things,  to rethink tired processes, and to improve the way we work.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman – World Economic Forum 

I enjoy exploring the topic of leadership and in particular, trying to understand how it applies within higher education. This quest sometimes takes me down a path to examine what changes are ahead for leaders within higher education, including how technology might impact our sector. Over the past year I have become increasingly interested in one technology that I believe could significantly impact higher education in the years ahead. That technology is Blockchain.

This three-part blog will explore Blockchain and here in Part 1, I try to set come context by looking back at two days that changed the world.


Driverless cars, digitally-connected homes, virtual and augmented reality, machine learning. There is so much hype around these and other emerging technologies that we sometimes forget that none of them would exist without that old, boring technology… the internet.

The internet (and of course – the world wide web) is so pervasive today that it seems as if it has been part of our lives forever. In fact, for those younger than the Boomers and GenX generations, the internet and world wide web (www) have always been part of their world. But let’s take a moment to look back several decades to better understand the events that allowed Blockchain to be developed.

Two Days That Changed the World

The world as we know it, started in the 1960s when a series of computers were connected to a single network. The concept of connecting computers was developed at the UCLA lab of the late Dr. Leonard Kleinrock. His early work became part of the US Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET).


Figure 1

This was interesting technology for some, however it wasn’t until Transition Control Protocol / Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) was adopted and researchers began to connect those single computers to multiple networks. The first day that changed the world was January 1, 1983. On that day, the internet was launched! We might graphically reflect this breakthrough in Figure 1.

The dawn of the internet was obviously of great consequence. However, this interesting technology was of little use to those outside intensive research and military communities.  We would have to wait another seven years later until Tim Berners-Lee successfully created a communication exchange between a client and server using Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP).


Sir Tim Berners-Lee

This innovation took place in 1989, however, the specific second day the world changed was on Monday, August 6, 1990 when Berners-Lee, a graduate student from Oxford University created the world wide web (www). It was on that day that “Sir Tim” created the world’s first web site while working at CERN.

We sometimes use the word “internet” and “the web” interchangeably. However, the internet is not the world wide web, and the latter does not exist without the former. Consider that the www sits upon the internet as reflected in Figure 2.


Figure 2

If Only We Knew

Today the world is a very different place thanks to ARPANET and Berners-Lee. It is interesting to consider what we might have done differently years ago had we known 3 billion people were going to be connected to the internet. I sometimes wonder what I might have been done differently had I known the travel, taxi, and music industries were about to be completely disrupted? How might I have looked differently at education had I known what the future would look like 25 years later?

Looking back through the rearview mirror is easy and I am always amused by people who suggest they predicted these Black Swan Events. However, in reality very few of us (including me) were able to fully understand the transformational power of the internet and the www in those early days.

So today, we are being given a second chance. I believe we are in another transformational moment and just like the development of the internet and world wide web more than 25 years ago, we are faced with a new technology that will change our world. The technology that will change how we live – work – and in time – learn is called Blockchain.

Blockchain (1)

Blockchain – Source:


Many people think Blockchain is an extension of the technologies we currently know. It is not. Blockchain is new and this emerging technology will change some existing technologies and in time, obliterate others.

The more specific question I find myself asking these days is, “How will Blockchain impact higher education?”  In Blockchain and Education – Part 2, I will provide a brief primer on blockchain and begin to examine if Klaus Schwab was accurate when he suggested…  that change almost always provides opportunities to learn new things, to rethink tired processes, and to improve the way we work. 



About kentmacdonald

President and Vice Chancellor Professor, Faculty of Education St. Francis Xavier University
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