Web3 promises to combine the openness and freedom of Web1 with the scale and interactivity of Web2. This blockchain-driven paradigm shift hopes to offer the best of both worlds: a democratic and decentralised network that allows for communication, creativity, and cooperation on a global scale.

But despite increasing interest in the Web3 phenomenon, relatively little has been made of its potential impact on education. This is a significant omission, given that the web was, first and foremost, a revolution in how we share information.

Like so many world-changing inventions, the web began as the solution to a relatively narrow technical problem: how can knowledge be shared more easily between isolated networks? 

In this sense, the web was, before anything else, an educational tool.

Over the past three decades, the web’s impact on the way we learn has been significant, even if its other functions – shopping and socialising, for example – have garnered more attention. And despite the manifold downsides of the Web2 era, the web has grown in importance as a source of information in recent years.

However, if the web remains dominated by the financial imperatives of the tech giants, its potential to democratise access to knowledge will likely not be fulfilled. Could blockchain be the solution?

Debt without jobs: The broken promise of higher education

The importance of education to a vibrant and flourishing society has long been understood. And while most developed nations have long mandated universal primary and secondary education, in recent decades, sights have been set even higher. In 1999, the UK set a target of 50% of young adults attending university – a target reached in 2019.  And the UK was not alone. Globally, the higher education enrolment rates almost doubled from 2000 to 2018.

Yet these statistics conceal a more troubling picture. While the number of people attending university has grown, the benefits offered by traditional educational institutions are becoming less compelling. For example, in both the UK and the US, higher education costs have spiralled since the turn of the millennium. In 1998, England introduced tuition fees for university education, capped at £1000 per year. By 2012, the cap had increased to £9000 per year.

To pay tuition and living costs, students borrowed money at accelerating rates – in England, the average student debt grew from £2690 in 2000 to £45,060 in 2021. It is similar in the US, where student debt has tripled over the past 16 years, with the average debt approaching $30,000. For US students, this is a precarious situation: their student debt cannot be discharged by bankruptcy, and the lender can take a range of punitive measures against borrowers who fail to pay, including garnishing their salary.

As costs increase, the previously self-evident value of university education is becoming increasingly questionable, particularly among Gen Z – those born between 1997 and 2012. While much has been made of Gen Z’s status as the “smartphone generation”, they are also a generation that has found themselves ill-served by traditional educational institutions. According to a recent survey, only 54% of Gen Z students felt their education had prepared them to succeed in the future.

This sense of unpreparedness is unsurprising. A rapidly changing digital economy has seen skills that were unheard of a decade ago become highly desirable. Formal educational institutions are slow to iterate. As a result…

There is a growing skills gap and questionable job prospects for a generation on track to be the best-educated in history.

In this situation, what could be more natural than the first “digital native” generation turning to the web for alternative forms of education? And by the time Gen Z began emerging into adulthood, the web had a wide range of solutions to offer – some more radical than others.

The MOOC model

While the Web1 era was in many ways already focused on knowledge sharing, with user-built homepages allowing people to explore their niche interests, it was not until deep into the Web2 era that mass-scale, interactive education on the web began to take shape.

The clearest example of this was the Massively Open Online Course, better known as the MOOC. By leveraging the web’s capacity for data-sharing and mass-scale connectivity, MOOCs opened access to university-level courses from major institutions far beyond previously conceived. 

In one famous early case, an introductory course on artificial intelligence by two professors at Stanford University had an initial enrolment of 160,000 students – more than ten times the university’s regular student body. Most importantly, the students didn’t have to pay a single penny. 

MOOCs have continued to attract students in enormous numbers across the subsequent decade: in 2020-21, 100m new users signed up for at least one MOOC.

Yet, despite their significant potential to improve access to higher education, MOOCs are relatively conservative examples of how the web has transformed education. They remain tied to a traditional model in which accredited experts from legacy institutions share their knowledge with students, who are then subjected to standardised testing and assigned a grade. In many ways, this reinforces the university’s authority as an institution while pushing the ratio between teachers and learners to new extremes.

A more radical alternative is the flourishing role of social apps as learning tools, particularly in the case of video-sharing platforms like TikTok and YouTube.

Education in a platform-driven world

While TikTok is still primarily associated with lip-syncing and dance crazes, the reality is far different. The world’s most downloaded app has evolved into a vast source of information on a truly improbable range of topics.

For proof, look no further than the #LearnOnTikTok hashtag.  As of June 2022, videos using this hashtag had accumulated an astonishing 326 billion views. TikTok, for its part, has been keen to embrace the growth of educational content on its platform. In 2020, they committed $50 million in funding to support providing distance learning content on the platform during the COVID-19 pandemic. Later that year, Tik Tok trialled a “learn” tab to showcase its learning-focused content.

YouTube has undergone a similar evolution in recent years, to the point that in 2018 51% of US users described the site as “very important” for learning how to do new things. According to Google’s statistics, 86% of US users turned to the platform for learning purposes.

This use of social platforms to share educational resources is a significant step away from the narrow, institutionally constrained model of learning represented by the traditional university system. Instead of gated communities of scholars that admit a select handful of learners, they allow for an open, collaborative, and inclusive model in which anyone can share their knowledge with innumerable others. Beyond, anyone can do so in ways that are often far more engaging than a typical lecture.

But there are nevertheless significant downsides. For a start, existing educational Web2 offerings share many underlying issues that have beset the web since the turn of the millennium. The creators of educational content on YouTube or TikTok must adhere to the platforms’ ever-changing terms of service, and they will only ever receive a small percentage of the revenue their content generates. They must contend with an opaque algorithm that shapes which content succeeds, and an underlying design focused on keeping users on the platform above all else. Both can undermine attempts to combat the troubling rise of misinformation.

How blockchain can transform digital learning

The blockchain-driven shift to the Web3 era is, at its core, a return to the web’s founding ideals – including the free and open sharing of information. But what does this mean in practice, and how could it solve some of the pressing problems currently facing online education?

In the first instance, a shift toward blockchain-based social apps can restore the rights of content creators, including educators. Tokenisation can help shift the creator economy toward what is referred to as an ownership economy. This would allow creators to realise their work’s true value rather than relying on uncertain payouts from privately-owned platforms.

The transparent nature of the blockchain, coupled with the decentralised governance mechanisms pioneered by DAOs, can also provide democratic and community-driven alternatives to accreditation. On-chain reputation systems reward those with a longer-term commitment to providing quality content while making it harder for purveyors of misinformation to conceal their activities. Tokenised collective moderation practices can serve a similar function.

But blockchain’s transformation of social platforms is only the beginning.

Whether you’re looking to share your knowledge or learn something new, the most exciting prospect that Web3 offers can be found in the metaverse.

The metaverse classroom

The immersive virtual worlds of the metaverse offer a truly unparalleled opportunity to transform education. By driving more engaged and personalised forms of digital interactivity, metaverse classrooms can overcome one of the core limitations of online education: the relative isolation of participants. Expressive avatars in a bounded virtual environment can form a well-defined cohort in a way that a YouTube comment section simply cannot replicate.

But this is just the first step. As the necessary XR tech develops to allow for truly immersive virtual spaces, the possibilities become more radical. For example, we can imagine an archaeology lesson at a virtual dig site or a history lesson that takes students through the streets of Renaissance Florence – a science-fictional concept now approaching realisation.

Of course, if the metaverse is ultimately shaped by the same oligopolies that have dominated the Web2 era, we may find ourselves short-changed. The economic imperative toward building “walled gardens” and extracting advertising revenue will be difficult to avoid for a Meta-built metaverse. Ultimately, the learning opportunities in a centralised metaverse will more likely resemble the exclusionary structures that have limited access to education for centuries.

And that’s why Cudos is committed to powering a truly decentralised metaverse and ensuring that Web3 is built in an inclusive and equitable way.

How Cudos is powering a decentralised metaverse

The vision of a blockchain-driven web will not only require a secure, scalable and sustainable blockchain network to power it, but it will also need significant computing resources.

That’s where the Cudos network comes in. Our recently launched mainnet offers developers a flexible, efficient and user-friendly platform for building DApps of all kinds. The forthcoming launch of Cudo Compute, meanwhile, will provide a radical solution for decentralised cloud computing, ensuring that the intensive computational demands of the metaverse can be met without relying on the existing highly centralised providers.

If you’d like to help support our efforts, why not visit our mainnet page to learn more about the Cudos blockchain?

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About Cudos

Cudos is powering the metaverse bringing together DeFi, NFTs and gaming experiences to realise the vision of a decentralised Web3, enabling all users to benefit from the growth of the network. We’re an interoperable, open platform launchpad that will provide the infrastructure required to meet the 1000x higher computing needs for the creation of fully immersive, gamified digital realities. Cudos is a Layer 1 blockchain and Layer 2 community-governed compute network, designed to ensure decentralised, permissionless access to high-performance computing at scale. Our native utility token CUDOS is the lifeblood of our network and offers an attractive annual yield and liquidity for stakers and holders.

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