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Startup That Puts Academic Diplomas On the Blockchain Raises $3 Million

Learning Machine, the blockchain startup co-developed a system for putting digital diplomas on the blockchain with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has raised $3 million.

The seed funding round was led by PTB Ventures with additional involvement from Omidyar Network and Learn Capital. The funding comes months after MIT unveiled that it had partnered with Learning Machine on the digital diploma initiative, which is based on the open-source Blockcerts standard.

Last fall saw other academic institutions and organizations launch their own Blockcerts-based pilots, including the University of Melbourne and Malta’s government. That software tool, according to Learning Machine vice president of business development Natalie Smolenski, can be used to link academic certifications to different blockchains – including bitcoin and ethereum – with the goal of eliminating degree forgery.

The startup hopes to allow clients to use any blockchain they want she said, noting that some customers might prefer a public chain versus a private one.

“Right now in part I think because blockchain technology is still relatively new, there are a lot of high or strong emotions about which blockchain is better than another and blockchain has kind of engendered these fierce loyalties,” she said, adding:

“We don’t want to pick winners with blockchain. We do generally recommend users pick blockchains with a proven record but ultimately you don’t want to prescribe to customers which blockchain they should use. If they have strong feelings about ethereum, they should use ethereum; if they have strong feelings on bitcoin, they should use bitcoin; if they have strong feelings on a private blockchain they should use a private blockchain.”

Smolenski went on to predict that educational institutions will increase their use of the technology – adding that she hopes they will learn toward tapping open-source projects.

“This is the future,” she told CoinDesk. “By 2020 most institutions will be using blockchains in some way, shape or form and the question we have to answer right now is are the solutions going to be open-standard or are they going to be proprietary?”

Graduation caps image via Shutterstock

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100 Diplomas: MIT Issues Graduate Certificates on a Blockchain App

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has used bitcoin’s blockchain to issue digital diplomas to over 100 graduates as a part of a pilot project.

In an announcement, MIT explained the certificates were issued through an app called Blockcerts Wallet, which allows graduates to securely share a “verifiable” and “tamper-proof” digital version of their diplomas with prospective employers and others.

The blockchain-based pilot is a result of partnership between MIT and Cambridge, MA-based software company Learning Machine, which jointly developed the Blockcerts open standard last year.

MIT registrar and senior associate dean Mary Callahan said:

“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.”

According to Chris Jagers, co-founder and CEO of Learning Machine, MIT is among the first universities to have “issued official records in a format that can exist even if the institution goes away.

“People can own and use their official records, which is a fundamental shift,” he said.

The Blockcerts system uses the bitcoin blockchain, according to Jagers, because it “prioritizes security over other qualities like speed, cost or ease of use.”

While the diploma information itself isn’t stored on the blockchain, the system utilizes a timestamped transaction indicating that MIT created the digital record for the certificate. This allows the student to prove ownership of the diploma at a later date.

With interest in the use case for the technology picking up, Malta’s Ministry for Education and Employment and Australia’s University of Melbourne have also started testing Blockcerts for tracking academic certifications in recent weeks.

MIT building image via Shutterstock

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Australian University Tests Blockchain in Bid to Back Up Academic Credentials

A public university in Australia is testing a mobile-based system for issuing and maintaining recipient-owned academic credentials on a blockchain.

The tools being built for the University of Melbourne are based on the Blockcerts open standard, developed last year by Learning Machine Technologies and the MIT Media Lab. The government of Malta, as previously reported, is also looking to track changes in academic records by using the tech.

According to a statement from university officials, the trial forms part of a wider effort to bridge new technologies with the higher learning institution’s existing services. By storing credential data on a blockchain – within which that information is tied to a certain transaction at a particular point in time – the university is hoping to mitigate the risk of credential fraud.

“While we are entirely committed to the existing degrees and awards that the University offers, we are also interested in exploring how we can build a more diverse credentialing ecosystem,” said University Pro Vice-Chancellor Gregor Kennedy. “Issuing credentials on the blockchain is a key component of this investigation.”

The news marks the latest intersection of higher education and blockchain more generally. A growing number of institutions (and the researchers who work for them) are looking to launch courses related to the tech, and a few have even begun accepting cryptocurrency as payment.

Image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Have breaking news or a story tip to send to our journalists? Contact us at news@coindesk.com.