Melbourne University to pilot a distributed database for micro-credentials

Graphic image of chain links with block chain written across the image.
Micro-credentials do not represent a threat to traditional university degrees, but rather complement them.

The University of Melbourne is to join forces with Learning Machine, a US-based company associated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, to pilot a blockchain based micro-credentialing system.

It will enable employers to verify those credentials quickly.

The University will be among a select group of universities worldwide – and the first Australian institution – to trial this technology.

Speaking at the annual meeting of a data portability consortium in Melbourne yesterday, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Teaching and Learning) Gregor Kennedy said the system will be trialled in an internal professional development program run in July by the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education, with a wider roll-out being considered for 2018.

Professor Kennedy said the decision to pilot Learning Machine’s blockchain platform for micro-credentialing is based on supporting new types of learning recognition that are increasingly being demanded by students and employers in a globalised, digital world.

“In a future where career ‘churn’ and constant technical and organisational innovation are the norm, employers are looking for ways to verify the know-how and skills of employees at a very granular level,” Professor Kennedy said.

“Similarly, students are increasingly interested in showing the specific skills and abilities they have acquired and developed. Micro-credentials, verified through secure, distributed platforms like Learning Machine’s are a means to address this.”

Learning Machine’s Natalie Smolenski said the underlying blockchain technology gives individuals complete control and “sovereignty” over how their achievements are represented and to whom. It also stores their credentials in an incorruptible and digitally secure system.

“Anyone who needs to verify official records, such as employers, can quickly check the validity and authenticity of each certificate," Dr Smolenski said.

"Any attempt to change, embellish, or otherwise misrepresent a micro-credential represented by a certificate will cause the verification to fail.”

Professor Kennedy said micro-credentials do not represent a threat to traditional university degrees, but rather complement them.

“The knowledge, understanding and experience gained from a University education, acknowledged through the award of a traditional degree, are incredibly important for both the individual and our community," Professor Kennedy said.

“Micro-credentials complement these forms of recognition by allowing universities to acknowledge a range of specific skills individual students may have developed. If anything, we see this trial as experimenting with new ways to recognise learning.”