Invisible to Inevitable:
The People, Promise, and Protocols of 2022
As another year passes, we once again look back and reflect in an effort to collectively move forward. 2022 represented a pivotal year of transition and growth for LEF. Our board and executive team was reinforced, new mission-aligned partnerships and impact-focused initiatives established, new leading-edge research published, and new open source tools and protocols, namely LearnCard, built and deployed.
In reflecting on all that has come to pass, and perhaps more importantly the work still to come, I wanted to close another year by offering a summary and reflection of the people, promises, and protocols that impacted LEF in 2022. With this recap, I hope to not only memorialize 2022, but provoke new threads of dialogue, and make the work yet to come more accessible and inspiring. This is for the current and future stewards of the Internet of Education and Learning Economy Protocol.
While I hope you’ll take the time to read the recap in full, here are the hot takes and highlights for those short on time:
- Former LEGO Foundation CEO, John Goodwin, joined LEF as our Executive Chairman—check out his Forbes interview.
- We published a new website + documentation for LearnCard, a suite of open source software and a standards-based digital wallet for empowering learners/earners globally.
- We published Hire Standards, a comic + playbook revealing the power and value of open data standards.
- We expanded SuperSkills! and our partnership with LEGO.
- In partnership with the World Bank, we launched the Web3 Education Alliance, a coalition focused on action-research and pilots.
- In partnership with Brookings, we hosted a high-level Symposium + Policy Debate as part of UNGA77 in NYC.
- We launched a Press & News site for easy access to LEF's latest/greatest.
- We’ve continued to broaden our global community of collaborators.
- And so much more…
North Stars: Durability in Mission and Vision
At LEF, we have always been proud to stand behind and promote the ideals of access, agency, and opportunity—and it was in that spirit in July 2022 that we welcomed John Goodwin as our newly appointed Executive Chairman. John joined us from The LEGO Foundation, where his previous position as CEO gave him a unique view into the challenges we aim to solve together. And while the challenges we face are varied and complex, the foundational vision is shared and simple: We believe that the inadequacies and incompatibilities of education and employment can be mended on a global scale by reimagining the processes by which we communicate, share, and store our information. It was through John’s introduction and subsequent momentum that we reimagined and codified a new organizational mission; one we see as more representative and durable for the change we aim to catalyze in the years to come.
We’ve come to a pivotal, perhaps inevitable, crossroad where open standards and emerging web3 protocols have allowed us to reimagine possibilities, and make meaningful progress toward solving our greatest challenges in education and employment. John’s history within the LEGO ecosystem, and his continued commitment to stewarding collaboration between innovators, gives him the insight and resolve we need now more than ever.
As John notes: “We need to transform the way we think about where learning occurs, how skills and achievements are captured and stored, and how learners are connecting with opportunity.”
Right now, there is real and immediate momentum to change existing models into infrastructures that favor benevolent, regenerative public goods. John’s focused understanding of the connection between learning skills and sharing data makes him an ideal leader to further this new mission and help to create access and opportunity for learners around the world.
It has been incredible working with and learning from John, and we’re excited about what he will bring to LEF moving forward. For a deeper dive, read this Forbes interview between John and long-standing LEF friend and colleague, Alison Griffin.
LearnCard: Sovereignty, Mobility, Agency
Without question, the most significant milestone for LEF in 2022 was the development and release of LearnCard, a universal, plugin-based, open source digital (and eventually physical) learner wallet that can connect to any system—you can think of it like the Metamask for digital credentials, education, and employment.
Based on the W3C Universal Wallet specification, and incubated within the VC-Edu community, LearnCard is a standards-based open source software development kit (SDK), which includes frontend and backend components, as well as a fully deployable and freely available app for Web, iOS and Android. This SDK, along with a growing network of interoperable wallets, will allow a growing network to build a graph of nodes across the entire ecosystem of learning and employment. And while we are moving into a production phase, there is still last mile work to be done, the Digital Credentials Consortium at MIT did great work this year examining the gaps between the potential of digital credentials and their actual usage in employment-related use cases.
Scott Meyer’s informative and playful article, Leapfrog with LearnCard, offers a great window into the breadth of opportunity we hope to unlock with this new open source community utility and global public good.
You can also read the developer docs to get started, checkout the github repo, or join the community discussions in the LearnCard public repo.
Promises and Perils: A Symposium + Policy Debate for the United Nations General Assembly
Alongside the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Transforming Education Summit, friends and colleagues of LEF met in The City That Never Sleeps to discuss technology advancements and educational access in the wake of the pandemic. Alongside our partners at the Brookings Institution, we co-hosted a pair of events investigating a range of pressing challenges in the pursuit of educational accessibility through digital learning tools.
The driving force of these events focused on elevating the promises and perils of redesigning bedrock infrastructures and associated governance protocols that will facilitate and perpetuate equitability and diversity in education technology. To achieve ambitious but fundamentally inalienable ideals that appreciate and promote the inherent value of individual learners, we must prioritize systems that empower vulnerable populations, engage diverse voices, give users control of their data, and recognize learning across borders.
To learn more about the details of our conversations and convenings, see the Policy Brief and wonderful recap from our friends and partners at Brookings.
SuperSkills!: An Evolution in Personalized Learning and Play
As many are aware, a highlight for LEF since early 2021 has been our partnership with The LEGO Foundation, culminating in a gamified mobile app, SuperSkills!, which leverages LearnCard and play-to-learn mechanics to empower young learners. This app, currently in beta, invites users to help restore an ancient superhero city. To do so, learners choose their own adventure and embark on quests to earn “skill resources.” In 2022, SuperSkills! came to life through play-testing and live feedback sessions with young learners.
In 2023 and beyond, we aim to expand SuperSkills! to become a community catalyst and shared beacon of possibility. Grounded in the principles of the IoE, our goal is to offer an open source public good that others can reference, learn/earn from, and build upon.
The partnership between LEGO Foundation & Learning Economy is intended to help champion the importance of these primitives, prepare the next generation of learners, and demonstrate that we can start these practices now, not tomorrow.
With interest continuing to surge around ideas such as web3 and the Metaverse, we believe SuperSkills!, along with a burgeoning ecosystem of related (d)apps, can act as a practical forcing function; one that shows (not tells) us the democratizing power of technology. For a more detailed deep-dive and technical overview, I encourage you to check out the epic Twitter thread and accompanying blog post by LEF VP of Engineering, Nathan Tonani.
Metaversity: A New Era in Lifelong, Pandemic-Proof Pathways
With Super Skills acting as an IoE use case for youth, we extended the design to an architecturally-aligned end-to-end platform for institutions of higher education called Metaversity (built on the same open, interoperable technology). This initiative, which also includes a digital wallet, learning pathways, and skills libraries, adds institutional connectors and a social layer for inviting local employers to post job openings. The intention is to create a localized skill economy where employers would accept verifiable badges and skill assertions like currency for new jobs. Michael Torrence, the bold pioneer and President of Motlow Community Colleges, helped to spearhead this effort.
Arguably, the key innovation with Super Skills and Metaversity is the ability to interoperate with existing, often proprietary systems. For example, using DXtera Institute’s Campus API along with aligned open standards, the Metaversity app can communicate with existing badging or credentialing systems and protocols (e.g. Open Badges, Credential Engine, etc.). As an open, turnkey software package, our goal is to enable fluid interoperation with any school, university, or existing employer system(s). The Metaversity platform, while tailored initially for community colleges, can be white-labeled by any K-12 school district, college, or organization.
This universal integrated system gives students:
- portable credentials (labor market currency)
- employment pathways (a career GPS linked to local employers/job opportunities)
- pride and belonging (a transparent, ad-free social network where learners can share, socialize, and take pride in their skills and achievements)
Ironically, Facebook (the Metaversity antithesis in many respects) initiated a major rebrand in 2021 to Meta. And while this clearly introduces the potential for confusion, we think it’s important that LEF, and anyone interested in creating a more open and equitable future, stay involved in shaping the memes and narratives of our time. We hope you’ll join us in elevating the rational and benevolent optimists who see a path toward a brighter, more inclusive, and less extractive future.
A growing network of organizations and institutions have already expressed interest in launching/supporting a Metaversity node. Interested in exploring this opportunity or engaging in the IoE community? Please let us know!
SuperSkills! League: A New Division and Developer DAO
While much of 2021 was about accelerating existing work streams, another opportunity surfaced which allowed us to create an entirely new research division at LEF focused on Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) and innovative new governance mechanisms. Seed funding and thought leadership for this new team and division was provided by DEVxDAO— a place where protocols, projects, and engineers work together to push forward the frontiers of emerging technology. A special thanks to Wulf Kaal and Timothy Lewis for their guidance, vision, and conviction.
While we foresee this new division taking on a range of projects, our initial focus (see the Dawn of the DAO) is a definitive study of DAOs; one that builds on LEF’s and Harvard’s research on Economy Corporations (E-Corps), the principles and technologies of the IoE, and DEVxDAO’s core white paper and research. By investigating the governance protocols, legal structures, and standard taxonomies of DAOs, this paper lays the foundation for any number of global DAO data marketplaces. The study, set to release in early 2023, has benefited from expert reviewers from some of the world’s top organizations and authorities, including many of LEF’s key collaborators.
With a stable foundation of research, a second phase of work will also kick off in earnest in early 2023. The SuperSkills! League (SSL) DAO will put research and theory into practice by inviting stakeholders and developers into a collaborative community to help advance LearnCard, LERs, the IoE, and the Learning Economy Protocol. The SSL DAO will provide grants to developers for open source projects related to web3 and education. Members will vote on proposed grants to direct treasury funds they think will add the most value to the evolution of the ecosystem. Each member will be minted an NFT from the SSL collection, and granted access to future NFTs and SSL DAO member benefits.
Open Standards: Durability in Practice and Products
True to our vision, in 2022 LEF supported the advancement of a suite of open standards that we view as critical to achieving our mission. We continued to invest in the W3C Credentials Community Group (CCG), and more specifically, the Verifiable Credentials for Education Taskforce (VC-Edu). In our view, the support of these open communities and associated standards are not optional if we’re to realize a truly global, interoperable network of education/employment tools, and data.
Funded by a grant from Walmart, LEF was also proud to release our open data standards graphic comic and implementation playbook, Hire Standards, which contains a set of resources to be shared and utilized across a growing community of key employers, leaders, and decision-makers. The goal with these outputs was not to highlight any singular platform, product, or standard, but instead, offer accessible resources to help align priorities and create a shared framework that enables all stakeholders to make educated and informed decisions.
Thank you to Sean Murphy, Danielle Saunders, Duncan Cox, Phil Long, Jim Goodell, and Simone Ravaioli for your trust, expertise, and leadership during the development and release of these resources. With these, and a range of complimentary resources, we believe 2023 will mark a new era in ecosystem-scale interoperability powered by open, global, human-centered tools and standards.
Open Skills Network: Seedlings to Sprouts
Of the many trends we saw emerge in 2022, one movement continued to gain steady momentum. The Open Skills Network (OSN) furthered its mission to promote a more equitable, skills-driven labor market that matches learners and workers with skills-based education and career opportunities to the benefit of the individual, employer, and economy at large. LEF was once again selected to help facilitate pilots, helping to develop a framework for selecting another round of Collaborative Teams that engaged in open, cohort-based skill development throughout the year. With continued excitement and enthusiasm surrounding digital badges, micro-credentials, and skills taxonomies, the work of OSN continues to be a beacon for possibility and impact.
This partnership with OSN has been a tremendous opportunity to grow the notion of “skills as currency” in a global learning economy. OSN as a collaborative IoE node is one of many that saw real movement across the globe as teams were developing and implementing skills-based initiatives at local, regional, national, and international levels.
Web3 Education Alliance: An Action-Oriented Community of Practice
In 2021, LEF had the privilege of partnering with the World Bank to co-convene the Blockchain for Education Community of Practice (CoP) with a goal of bringing together individuals and organizations working on the use of blockchain technologies to create value in education systems. Members discussed the practical realities of effectively utilizing related technologies and shared lessons from their work and research related to:
- Blockchain & FinTech for Education
- Education Ecosystems & Crypto-networks
- Learner-centered Credentials
- The Skills Economy
- Assessment & Measurement
- Token Economics
A total of 6 workshops were held throughout 2021, with well over 200 unique participants engaging globally.
In 2022, LEF and the World Bank’s EdTech Team, along with a growing network of organizations and ministries of education, continued to collaborate and align a coalition of global partners. Through the newly formed Web3 Education Alliance (W3EA) we aim to research, develop, and pilot the next generation of web3 education tools and applications such as universal wallets, verifiable credentials, peer to peer networks, and decentralized organizational structures such as DAOs. While nascent, we believe this evolution of the previous CoP will allow us to evolve into a sustainable mechanism for furthering our shared vision, both in theory and practice.
By empowering a community of practice with open, standards-based software developer kits, deployment playbooks, and a framework for pilots and research, W3EA will help community stakeholders advance learner mobility, data sovereignty, and equitable access to skill development. Those interested in getting involved, please contact us so we can include you in our correspondence for 2023.
Thank you for your continued support and advocacy. Without question, our success and future potential lies in the strength of our network and allies like you.
Together we are indeed stronger than the sum of our parts!