As it now stands, the backdrop of extant infrastructure in education and employment is fissured with inefficacy, polarization, and disconnect. The current models and methodologies are benighted and stifled by issues of communication and transferability, and as disparate complications deepen, individual learners and workers face an increasingly challenging setting in which to grow and succeed. At the same time, it’s morning, and a vision is rising that imbues a new and auspicious way to prioritize self-sovereignty and cooperation over the existing landscape.
In many ways, this is a conversation engaging in the multivalent application of governance. Not just how we structure our organizations, but how we manage and leverage our data; how we approach and recognize value. In short, what we—as not just a nation, but a global community of individuals with skills, motivations, and passions—prioritize. Herein lies a core principle of the Learning Economy Foundation, and a belief that by investing in a world where the systems of education and employment are connected and centered around the individual worker and learner, equity, opportunity, and agency ensue.
This conviction is the impetus for our most recent research that continues an investigatory examination into new modes of decentralized networks, specifically Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs), and the role of data, governance, and technology in creating a individual-centered approach to a future of education and employment.
Setting the stage
Our previous research began as an investigation into the viability and potential for blockchain-based forms of governance to solve some of the most conspicuous issues that our currently fractured systems face. How can we overcome skills gap and give both learners and workers the tools they need to succeed in the rapidly evolving marketplace? How do we restructure our approach to data to overcome the immobility of centralization and empowering individual ownership? How can the very structure through which we organize and govern be reimagined to fight inequality, discrimination, and bias?
If our goal in answering these pressing questions involves resituating learners and workers as the central point around which new efforts for democratizing education and employment revolve, foundational and infrastructural changes are necessary. To disrupt with positive intention the outdated and institutional-centered systems, the center may need to be disbanded altogether. The question that follows is one of both visionary ambition and pragmatic action: What must a decentralized approach to education and employment entail in order to be highly functional, secure, and interoperable?
The initial research we conducted set the stage for considering this question through the lens of decentralization; our new research aims to further add clarity and specificity to the investigation as we explore how to apply the characteristics of effective DAOs to the incredibly large and diverse Internet of Education (IoE) ecosystem.
The Internet of Education
Rethinking the way education and employment operate to allow for sovereignty and individually controlled data, interestingly, creates something of a productive paradox: the decentralized network.
Many of the biggest hurdles and the hardest challenges identified in our research are unfortunate byproducts of the cumbersome and poorly functioning ecosystems that learners and workers operate within. Centralized systems—which often sacrifice transparency, integration, and interoperability for the swift decisiveness of unilateral decision-making—are unable to facilitate and amalgamate the multifaceted career trajectory of an individual who, over a lifetime, will move through various institutions and organizations. Without a unified approach to validate and account for the skills and data an individual generates on this life-long journey, they are forced into the inaccurate and ineffective contortions a siloed system requires. Consider that academic and workplace abilities are often tied to the organization from which they derived, making incompatibility and friction an unfortunate guarantee for both employee and employer, learner and institution, as they attempt to bridge and interchange poorly tracked and collated but pivotally important data.
The IoE sees past these disparate and discordant qualities to connect the fragments. The result is a network that holds and supports individuals, decentralized because it is designed to benefit each distinct participant. Instead of a concentric web that moves out from a single organization, this Web3 powered ecosystem revolves around individuals who each own and control their own data that can follow them as they advance. This shift espouses real potential for enhancing sovereignty and equity by illuminating the pathways a learner and worker can follow, tailoring their journey to the unique and propitious skills they embody.
This is the promise the IoE envisions, and it can be achieved by linking the currently splintered education and employment systems into a coordinated network of impact and accountability, governed by an IoE DAO.
The IoE DAO
Our current research began with an investigatory attempt to depict how a decentralized Internet of Education might pragmatically look, and this took the form of an analysis or taxonomy of DAOs. Due to the dispersed nature of what a comprehensive and seamlessly functioning IoE ecosystem must encompass—from universities to employers, students to employees, people who verify information to systems that store data—we began by aligning our proposed goals with the tenets and possibilities of DAOs. In other words, we began by exploring how governance models can be applied to the specific principles of the IoE.
To build off of our inaugural research, which approached the DAO model at a very high-level, we wanted to now consider very specific and applicable methodologies and implications. Not just how a DAO might perpetuate the IoE’s promise, but what governance questions remain unanswered and what specific infrastructure must be developed and interlinked to make real and palpable progress.
Understanding the most apposite and pressing governance inquiries meant querying more than 20 different Web3 and DAO experts, plus influencers and adapters from institutions and organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce and IBM. The goal was to learn more about the micro-needs of data use and storage, interoperability, credentialing, skill application, tokenomics, and many other practical necessities of the inner workings and demands each node of the IoE will circumscribe. With this research we were able identify and codify the essential layers of what the IoE will require to operate:
- Equity Networks: Equality in broadband access for all as a foundation for innovation.
- Digital Wallets: Application layer to store and manage learner data.
- Skills Libraries: Detailed skills descriptors for use in developing courses and assessing learner knowledge and experiences.
- Credential Networks: Solutions for verifying that a learner earned a skill.
- Skills & Career Compasses: Application layer to aid learners in mapping their skills to career choices and opportunities for growth.
- Skills Clearinghouses: A skills marketplace for third-parties to analyze and act on learner data, shared securely and with data sovereignty.
- Coinage & Incentives: Introducing an earn to learn model that pays learners for data labor, among other incentive structures for other ecosystem stakeholders.
Using these key attributes and applications, the IoE can engender a future of education that empowers each learner with data autonomy, recognizing the value in their work and skills, and supporting them with the structure and technology to move through their academic and employment careers without friction or logistical impediment.
DAOs as a Legal Entity
As part of our attempt to add pragmatism and pertinence to the structural plausibility of an IoE DAO, we also researched the legal challenges of adopting a decentralized model. As they exist now, DAOs occupy a tenuous and unspecified legal position in which their unique decentralized architecture must be placed into the shell of existing and often ill fitting legal structures. This adoption is known as a legal wrapper, wherein a DAO is clothed in a recognized entity so that it can function in the simple modes of being taxed, attaining registry, and importantly, protecting members from being personally liable in the case of systemic contingencies such as litigation. For now, a DAO can wrap itself in many of the existing corporate designs (Non-Profit, General Partnership, LLC, etc.) until one is created and designated that recognizes the specific needs of decentralization.
This research delved into the most recent and currently underway attempts at facilitating what an internationally recognized decentralized entity may entail. As it now stands, there are no concrete and complete precedents that dictate the legal establishment of a truly decentralized organization. However, the ontological implication of how a DAO “exists” raises the important questions: What country or state laws do a decentralized organization operate under? And who is ultimately responsible for its actions?
Questions that although are not currently answered, pave the intrepid way for impending investigations with urgency and precision.
As research continues and new approaches become tactile solutions to previously stymied evolutions, the future of education and employment need people who passionately believe in sovereignty and equitability. There are higher standards rising up from the horizon, and those beliefs will become manifest from the diligent work of people invested in building technology that invites a world of innovation. We need bold policy makers. We need activists at the helm of ingenuity. We need visionaries who look toward the future and see our shared mission, leading technologies that transform learning and economic systems, so that together we can radically improve the world.