January 18, 2022

Web3 and Education

The main use cases we are tracking in education

web3 has taken the world by storm – the promise of a new user-owned internet has excited millions of users and is penetrating every industry. Education is no different. In this piece I will talk about:

I bought bitcoin for the first time in 2017.

I only bought $20 initially, but I thought it’d be a fun way to learn about blockchain, and I went deep into the research. I did a bunch of IBM blockchain tutorials, met a lot of people working in projects in the space, even put my Econ degree to use and built valuation models.

But eventually, my interest went the opposite direction to BTC prices.

Even as my tiny bitcoin reserve grew in value, I lost all interest. The bitcoin narrative often came down to the same idea:

Get in loser, we are going to make a lot of money.

And I had no interest in being a part of that movement.

I didn’t revisit the blockchain space at all for many years. But last year, a lot of friends started going full-time into blockchain projects (now known as web3) and it sparked my interest once again.

I’ve been watching from the sidelines, but it’s clear there is a lot of energy going into this space, even if most ideas don’t work out in the end.

Let’s explore it and what it means for education!

what on earth is web3?

The promise of “web3” is full user ownership.

As opposed to web2, where data is managed by platforms/aggregators to their own benefit,  web3 promises you as the user will own your data, your communities, your company, your JPEGs. Even if not all of these will be possible (at the end of the day, “people don’t want to run their own servers”), building new products and services around user ownership is already creating a very different user experience.

Image: Not Boring

web3’s focus on ownership redefines the way users engage with products, from onboarding to purchase.

Given the way protocols and DAOs (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations) onboard members and contributors and reward them tokens for participation, users are increasingly wary of transactional relationships with service providers. Users now expect to access a community where they can meet like-minded members, they expect to be heard as community members, and to have their voice shape the product direction.

Here’s an example from a recent discussion we facilitated.

Farza from buildspace shared his users can join the community for free on Discord, and then start building projects with other community members. Still, everything is free, and users even earn tokens from partner protocols by building projects using their technology. As users become more involved in the community, they can expect to have a bigger voice in the community, and access more opportunities from hiring partners.

These are all really great things.

I’m happy web3 is bringing this new consumer expectation, despite it not having anything to do with the actual tech!

Web3 moves the benefits of a user community way earlier in the journey, even before the user owns any of your tokens or pays for a service.

I like to think about it as the shift from “try before you buy” to “jam before you buy”.

Even the way a user “buys” is different. Instead of making a one-off purchase, web3 users often buy tokens to participate in a given protocol.

This creates a whole new user experience and relationship with communities, organizations, and products.

3 education use cases for web3

I have now spent the last 8 months diving deep into the use cases of web3 in education. I’ve narrowed down 3 use cases for web3 that I’m really excited about in education.

1. DAOs as the home for learning communities 🙌

One of my biggest theses around the future of education is that the biggest threat to educational institutions is people coming together to learn through communities. Over time, these communities create playbooks and the learning experience becomes far superior than traditional schooling.

DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) are a great home for many of these learning communities, and there are very interesting experiments playing around with learning incentives, contributor payments and peer learning.

Of all the use cases here, I think this will have one of the largest TAMs in the long run, despite having the smallest one in the short term.

Organizations: CryptoSocietyS1, Invisible College, lirners, k20 DAO

2. Peer-to-peer credentials 🤝

web3 communities are thinking about peer credentials because of the lack of weight institutional credentials have in the space today. I think there’s a strong use case around peer-to-peer credentials, where users verify and vouch for others’ skills, even larger than institutional credentials.

Think LinkedIn Endorsements, but where users have scarcity in their endorsements and different weights based on their own skill strength.

Organizations: ignito, verifyed

3. vocational training for web3 👩‍🔧

The vocational pathways to a technical job today include hundreds of bootcamps and providers that students pay for 6-12 months of education and access to employers, in order to get a job.

In web3, the pathway is a lot more self and peer-driven. Granted, it’s a much smaller population, and there’s a lot more motivation to learn, but the web3 model introduces new ideas such as token incentives for building in certain protocols (economic value for the student) and a new culture of compensating for work rather than hiring someone full-time. The legal structures of DAOs and protocols will continue to shift, and we shall see if these fluid economic structures can hold up, but these are very interesting new ideas being introduced to the vocational training model.

Organizations: buildspace, KERNEL, questbook, rabbithole, Continuum

my open questions

I still have a lot of open questions about the potential impact of web3 in how we learn and work. I’m sharing some so you can tell me what you think too!

Finally, if you want to read more about the space, here are some pieces I recommend:

There’s a ton of experimentation going on in web3 right now, and the 3 use cases I shared above are the ones I’m finding most traction in and solid learning + business models around.

Excited for more ideas to come into the space!

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