MIT Uses Blockchain to Give Students the Power of Autonomy

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has embraced blockchain technology to usher in a new era of digitized academic diplomas.

Blockchain may be most well known for being Bitcoin’s supporting technology, but it can offer so much more. This decentralized network provides its users with immutable records and security, showing businesses over a range of industries how beneficial it can be for them. This is because each transaction, or block, on this distributed database is encrypted and timestamped once it is recorded. It is then added to the previous block on the chain, hence the name, thereby creating a secure timeline for each transaction.

Because it is a consensus-driven network, each record needs to be approved by the other users. In addition, these records cannot be changed or altered in any way as it would affect the rest of the blocks on the chain. Now blockchain technology finds itself in the hallowed halls of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

MIT has issued traditional paper credentials to more than 207,000 students for nearly 150 years, but 2017 saw something different. As its name suggests, MIT embraces the innovations of technology, and what better way to do this than to take advantage of all the benefits that the revolutionary blockchain technology has to offer?

As part of a pilot program, this summer saw 111 June graduates have their diplomas available on their smartphones via an app, as well as in traditional paper format. The former option was made possible through a partnership between the MIT Registrar’s Office and Learning Machine, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based software development company. The Blockcerts Wallet app will allow students to share their hard-earned diploma with whomever they choose, including potential employers. Because the app is built on blockchain technology, the diploma cannot be altered and is completely secure. In addition, Touchstone, which is MIT’s identity provider, is integrated into the app.


Even though providing digital credentials is not a new concept, this specific trailblazing initiative will actually give students complete autonomy over their academic records.


Mary Callahan, Registrar and Senior Associate Dean, says:

From the beginning, one of our primary motivations has been to empower students to be the curators of their own credentials. This pilot makes it possible for them to have ownership of their records and be able to share them in a secure way, with whomever they choose.

Because of the technology behind this concept, these records and diplomas will be permanently accessible and available.

Chris Jagers, CEO and co-founder of Learning Machine, says:

MIT has issued official records in a format that can exist even if the institution goes away, even if we go away as a vendor. People can own and use their official records, which is a fundamental shift.


As soon as Callahan heard about blockchain technology, she was interested in if it could be used in their institution to issue digital diplomas. At that time, Philipp Schmidt, the director of learning innovation at the MIT Media Lab, had already been experimenting with the technology. Schmidt had actually begun issuing internal and non-academic digital certificates to his team in 2015.

Schmidt had noticed that even though the popularity and adoption of decentralized technology on an informal online learning sphere was increasing, there was no way of tracking and managing these academic accomplishments. This is why he looked into finding a “more modular credentialing environment, where you would get some kind of recognition for lots of things you did throughout your life.” […]

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