What Bitcoin and Educational Institutions Have in Common

People say that money makes the world go around. It controls where we live, how we live, and how we spend our time. The financial institutions that run the world are deeply established and set the status quo.

Sound familiar?

Our traditional educational institutions wield that same power over us. Just like most financial institutions, many traditional education structures look almost identical to those that existed hundreds of years ago.

There's just one catch. Our needs and desires as a society have changed completely since then.

Despite this, two of the arguably most fundamental components of our world, money, and education, are still so stuck in the past.

In recent years there have been disruptions in both money and education. When it comes to education, the movement of unschooling and decentralizing education systems has widely disrupted the way we think about our schooling options.

When it comes to money, one of the most disruptive forces that have turned the industry on its head is Bitcoin.

You're probably thinking: what on earth does Bitcoin have to do with education?

In our latest Clubhouse event, the 'Once BITten' podcast host Daniel Prince spoke to the Saylor Academy founder and MicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor as well as the academy's Executive Director Jeff Davidson on this. The Microstrategy CEO and Executive Director discussed the unlikely intersection of disruptive finance and unschooling practices as well as what we should learn from the ethos and promise of Bitcoin.

Saylor Academy CEO Provided Free Education For Thousands of Students

Michael Saylor is the CEO of MicroStrategy, a public company that provides business intelligence, mobile analytics, web analytics, and cloud computing solutions. The MicroStrategy company CEO and MicroStrategy executives are committed to building tech-based solutions that provide efficiency, innovation, and development.

Michael Saylor's opinion is simple: tech holds the power to drive us forward into a better future and meaningful economic development. A future that is more inclusive, accessible, and equal.

"Tech is a really poweful force, and I think that the human race has been, and will continue to be, elevated via technology and via engineering."

Through his passion for tech and the possibilities it holds, MicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor founded his non-profit organization, which provided a tuition-free tertiary education to thousands of students around the world.  Michael Saylor did this alongside the Executive Director, Jeff Davidson.

Saylor had big plans for the academy. Since 2008, the online company has offered almost 100 free, open online courses. These courses are created by subject matter experts and are full-length college-level courses.

One of the main hurdles that online courses face is accreditation. Although there is value in the content itself, value is often placed on the accreditation or credits that can be earned.

However, Jeff Davidson and Michael Saylor were aware of this value placed on accreditation. Davidson has been working with the American Council of Education (ACE) to get a number of their courses accredited, meaning that students can get almost three-quarters of their university credits for free.

Talk about value for money.

Davidson told us:

"There are 20 million students in the US each year, between freshmen and senior year. So if you just look at the freshman and sophomore years, that's still about 25% of a big number - you've got about 5 million students. And if 25% of the total population did 25% of their education for free with a group like us, it would save billions of dollars."

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A Digital Transformation for Free Education

Tech has enabled us to expand and develop in so many incredible ways. One of the most powerful parts of this growing digital transformation is the ability to scale the spread of resources and information.  For a business like MicroStrategy, this is what underpins their business model.

We see this trend happening across almost every industry, company, and business. These days, everyone has a mobile identity. The entertainment industry, for example,  has been completely focused on digitization in the last decade. For many, it's not financially viable to purchase hundreds of CDs or to watch every movie in a cinema.

However,  through digital streaming platforms, any company or business can offer this media for a lower price point at a larger scale. Millions of people around the globe are streaming films, music, television programs, and more every day.  On this, MicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor says:

"I'm very interested in what kind of technical advances or technical investments you can make in order to improve the condition of humanity. If a business wanted to give 8 billion people joy, you need to do it with digital music, you can't do it with analogue music. You can't give everybody a piano you can't give everybody an orchestra. It's just too expensive. So you have to find a way to digitally transform music."

Chart: Spotify's Growth Shows No Signs of Slowing Down | Statista
Chart: Spotify's Growth Shows No Signs of Slowing Down | Statista

So how would this work for education?

It's universally acknowledged that education, specifically tertiary education, is the key to many complex social issues. However, in the same way, that providing each person with an orchestra is expensive, so too is fully-immersive tertiary education.

Therefore, we need to find a better solution. That's where digital transformation comes in.

If millions of people can watch unlimited Netflix for only $8.99 per month, surely we could create a similar digital solution for education? Saylor has the same idea. That's what he was thinking when he founded his non-profit academy. He shares:

"If you want to give 8 billion people an education, you can't do it with libraries and you can't do it with conventional bricks and mortar universities. The sign is clear. You need to do with digital education. The human race has 7.9 billion people. If we wish to advance the human race, we need to get people educated. For me to give all my money to scholarships that cost a million dollars each in order to make someone a PhD, means that not many people are getting a PhD.  You can't do it at a million dollars each, you have to do it for 37 cents."

Where Does Bitcoin Come Into Play?

It's highly likely you've heard of Bitcoin by now. If you type Bitcoin into Google, you will be presented with approximately 5 080 000 000 results. While Bitcoin may seem like just another buzzword, a simple google search is a sign there's a whole lot more to Bitcoin than just its buzz.

Bitcoin is a virtual currency known as a cryptocurrency, meaning that it has no physical presence and exists in a completely digital way.  You can use Bitcoin to buy products and services (depending on the company) in the same way that you would use cash.

Chart: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Bitcoin | Statista
Chart: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Bitcoin | Statista

Unlike cash economies that are connected to other tangible resources like gold or oil, Bitcoin's worth and value lie in its data. Each Bitcoin contains private codes, almost like a computer file, that record the transactional history of that specific Bitcoin.

This kind of blockchain technology makes Bitcoin completely transparent as it's possible to trace every single thing that each specific bitcoin has been used for - be it connected to a company or individual. This way in which Bitcoin is structured makes actions like fraud or theft impossible.

Making sense of bitcoin and blockchain | PwC
Making sense of bitcoin and blockchain | PwC

If you haven't grasped the full story, you can find a simple and useful breakdown of Bitcoin from the Guardian here.

According to MicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor, we have a lot to learn from the ethos of Bitcoin.

"I think the ethos of Bitcoin is openess, inclusion, economic empowerment, permissionless and global. I think that the great thing about Bitcoin is that it's a global monetary network open to everyone - as we say: 'rules without rulers'. Bitcoin doesn't discriminate.  Our approach with the academy is much the same as the world of Bitcoin. In the same way that Bitcoin opens up the money supply, we want to create courses and give them to everyone. Like Bitcoin, we want to put the power back into the hands of the people. This is a sign that we are heading in a new direction."

Centralization is the issue here. By keeping companies keeping things centralized, you keep them exclusive, small scale, and largely inaccessible. We see banks, trading centers, companies, and other financial institutions control the flow of money. However, with the rise of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, the power can slowly shift back into the hands of individuals. Saylor says:

"A lot of what goes on in the financial world is over-regulated, which is a frustration for many people and why many see Bitcoin as a viable alternative. For example with securities trading or with a public company, you can only trade from 9:30am to 4:30pm on the NASDAQ and it's been that way for about forty years. People are thinking differently these days and innovations like Bitcoin offer that - you don't need to go through a company."

The same can be said about education. Universities and other tertiary institutions have acted as gatekeepers of knowledge, qualification, and accreditation for years.

So what is education's hypothetical Bitcoin? Perhaps it's the rise of EdTechs.

The online education space is slowly but surely starting to fill this 'Bitcoin' space. From grade school to high school, to university - these resources are being made more widely available through online communities, virtual courses, and increased communication through social networks. The more these educational resources are made accessible, the more decentralized the education space becomes.

Join the Digital Education Revolution

Are we education's Bitcoin? At Galileo, we are committed to making quality and modern education accessible on a global scale. We work with future-facing families and facilitators to help unlock every child's potential and to prepare them for the 21st century. If you are interested in learning more about what goes on in our community, we host regular Clubhouse events where we engage with industry experts, thought leaders, and all-around interesting people. Join our upcoming events here!

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