From segments on CNBC to articles in publications like Forbes, it seems that “blockchain technology” is popping up everywhere. Originally used as a way to record the distribution of digital currencies like bitcoin, blockchain technology has caught the eye of innovators across industries, who see its potential for a growing number of use cases.

It’s no surprise, then, that blockchain technology has the education sector excited about how it can revolutionize learning.

Blockchain: a primer

At its most fundamental level, “blockchain” refers to a public ledger that automatically records and verifies transactions, generating a growing list that’s subsequently verified and cryptographically secured. Since the blockchain is a transparent register of transaction data, it’s strikingly resistant to hacking, fraud, and exploitation by third parties.

That description might not sound revolutionary—especially given the sometimes hyperbolic-seeming claims that blockchain will be “the new internet“—but blockchain technology is already finding its way into many different industries.

For instance, blockchain can be used in health care, where sensitive patient data can be kept private while still being accessed by those who need it; in business to facilitate payments, recordkeeping, and supply chain management; as well as in securing and authenticating the voting process.

Applications in education

Don and Alex Tapscott are the authors of Blockchain Revolution, which lays out the technology’s applications across industries.

“The blockchain provides a rich, secure, and transparent platform on which to create a global network for higher learning,” they argue. “This Internet of value can help to reinvent higher education in a way the Internet of information alone could not.”

Broadly speaking, they see blockchain applying to four key areas of education:

Student identity and records: How student records are kept, how their credentials are established, how to verify student identity, and how to maintain student privacy.

Pedagogy: Using blockchain to establish new models of teaching, customized to the student.

Costs: How education is funded and how students can be rewarded for work.

The meta-university: Former MIT president Charles Vest’s idea of an open “meta-university” is cited by the Tapscotts as one way blockchain can revamp the education system as a whole.

The following list outlines sixteen ways blockchain technology can impact the education sector—and in some cases, how it is already making inroads:

1. Transcripts and learner agency

Phil Long, UT Austin’s chief innovation officer and associate vice provost for learning sciences, sees the capacity of blockchain technology to empower learners and reduce college control of transcripts.

“In the future, many learners will have earned credentials from a range of institutions,” he says. With blockchain, Long notes that “the assertion of the authenticity is made at the time it is created; there is no need to validate it thereafter.”

2. Certification and accreditation

With the wealth of different education models and institutions granting certification, initiatives like Blockcerts aim to register digital records on a blockchain, where certificates can be cryptographically signed, made tamper-proof, and easily shared.

3. Cloud storage space

With more learners comes more data, and more data means a greater need for cloud storage. Blockchain innovations like Filecoin, a decentralized file storage network, services that need by allowing anyone worldwide to participate as a storage provider.

4. Identity verification

Companies like Civic can keep student data safe through products like their Secure Identity Platform (SIP), which uses a verified identity for multi-factor authentication on web and mobile apps without the need for usernames or passwords.

5. Transfer credits

A blog post from research and technology firm EAB argues that transfer students are an underappreciated resource in higher ed, despite “a lingering misconception that transfer students are somehow less desirable than students who originate their educational journeys at four-year institutions.”

A custom blockchain can help institutions facilitate the transfer of credits, which in turn increases enrollment in four-year institutions by students hoping to transition from community colleges.

6. Smart contracts between teachers and students

Students and teachers can use smart contracts—a facet of blockchain ledger tech—to check in with one another, validating attendance and the completion of assignments.

Joshua Broggi, an Oxford professor and founder of Woolf Development, uses a blockchain “to create efficiencies by managing custodianship of student tuition, enforcing regulatory compliance for accreditation, and automating a number of processes.”

7. Human resources and hiring

Background checks for school employees can be tedious and expensive. A blog post by Deloitte suggests that blockchain technology can streamline HR duties like payroll, digital information management, and the verification of credentials.

8. Libraries and information management systems

San Jose State has put together a website dedicated to blockchain in the information professions, noting that “building a distributed, permission-less metadata archive has perhaps the most disruptive potential” for libraries and information science.

9. Publishing and intellectual property

Educators can use blockchain to establish copyright and intellectual property rights.

EAB states that “if researchers were able to publish openly and accurately assess the use of their resources [through the blockchain], the access-prohibitive costs of academic book and journal publications could be circumvented, whether for research- or teaching-oriented outputs.”

10. Reduction of paper-based recordkeeping

Blockchain technology could help replace those endless filing cabinets of records, with the added bonus of enabling fast, safe transfer of records between parties. Other sectors, like the fields of accounting and auditing, have already started experimenting with using blockchain ledgers to streamline recordkeeping.

11. Bonds and charity

Donor transparency is a hot-button topic in education, both for students and potential donors. Blockchain initiatives like GiveTrack allow donors to track exactly where their donations go and what they’re used for, making charitable giving more attractive.

12. Open learning and MOOCs

MOOCs, or “massive online open courses,” are aimed at massive participation in an open format online. Certification in MOOCs is one problem that blockchain can help solve (and, pointedly, Princeton offers its own MOOC on blockchain technology).

13. Administration and governance

Blockchain apps like Boardroom can help school administrators manage smart contracts according to rules defined by the blockchain itself. The app also facilitates collaborative proposal management and democratic voting by proxy.

14. Vendors and the quest for interoperability

Interoperability, or the capacity for vendor software to communicate with one another, is another area that blockchain can improve.

Chris Jagers, CEO of Learning Machine, argues that vendor interest in blockchain technology should come with open standards. He notes that “given that products in the blockchain space are just emerging, our highest values should be laying the groundwork of open standards that enable a new generation of records and products that interoperate.”

15. Badges

Digital badges can be used to verify expertise, with multiple badges forming an “open badge passport” that students can share with prospective employers.

As Doug Belshaw, founder of Dynamic Skillset Ltd, puts it, “pairing blockchain technology with Open Badges allows for trusted credentialing on a level usually reserved for international banking.”

16. Global standardization

Sony Global recently announced its entrance into the blockchain sphere, with an aim to bridge the gap between institutions all over the globe. According to its press release, “the creation of an open yet secure infrastructure has the potential to draw many educational institutions to the network, resulting in high credibility in test administration.”