The team behind LRN has been innovating educational programming and technology for many years, and we are proud to introduce our newest project. Building on the strength of our previous work to modernize student learning, LRN provides a marketplace for educational content creators to share and monetize their work and fully control the distribution of their intellectual property.

Licensing in education

Educational content like lesson plans, instructional videos, software, and print and digital textbooks are created either by individual teachers or traditional education companies like Pearson and Cengage. These materials are ultimately distributed to students under the promise that it will enhance their academic development. And while there’s nothing wrong with the content itself, the current licensing paradigm creates an environment where it is not always used as intended.

Teachers struggle to be paid for their independent content, education companies have cumbersome usage restrictions and fall victim to piracy, and students—often the pirates in question—turn to suboptimal methods and materials, or even forgo them altogether.

This arrangement is a burden to all parties, producers and consumers alike, and is in urgent need of an update. LRN solves these problems by managing licenses for educational content on a blockchain.

The LRN platform

Blockchain is extremely well suited for provenance management, which allows for reliable tracking of the development, attribution, and flow of data. LRN utilizes this speciality to create “smart contracts” that facilitate the licensing and distribution of educational materials.

While current education marketplaces offer piecemeal solutions, there is still plenty of need left unfulfilled. LRN fills these gaps by allowing members of its marketplace to rent, buy, and subscribe to high-quality educational content, and by rewarding participants in the community with the exchange of digital tokens.

With customizable license templates, the platform’s simple interface lets creators define how their content is distributed and at what cost, as well as enables updates and corrections. Building LRN on blockchain-based smart contracts will allow small publishers and independent content creators to distribute more broadly and enjoy absolute control over licensing issues.

Meanwhile, established publishers can distribute their materials in a profitable way while conforming to the reality of how the population wants to use their products. This ensures that everyone gets the most for their money, improving students’ access to an education of the highest quality.

A boon for teachers

When teachers are hired, schools typically only give them guidelines for developing their courses, not complete lesson plans. This leaves them with the monumental task of building each of their courses almost completely from scratch.

We’re fortunate that teachers are some of the best content creators in the game, but they’re generally underpaid, and they deserve whatever help they can get to be rewarded for their hard work. It would be hugely beneficial if teachers could monetize their content by sharing it with other teachers, but without industry connections with broad distribution networks, it’s difficult for individual creators to reach far beyond their friends and local communities.

This is not to ignore the marketplaces that already exist—more than 3 million users are active on TeachersPayTeachers.com, for instance—but such platforms can only do so much. Even if a few teachers can earn a living by monetizing their educational content, the problem of licensing remains. There’s no way to effectively limit distribution, and one purchased lesson can quickly become thousands of copies shared between peers with no recognition or compensation for its creator. Furthermore, none of these markets allow creators to accept donations, update their content, or manage recurring revenue from subscriptions, leases, and rentals.

With LRN, teachers can select from simple templates that manage the licensing, distribution, and monetization of their intellectual property. Underwritten by smart contracts, each unit of educational content will be fully under the control of its author and subject to the conditions he or she has selected for it. In this way, teachers will be better rewarded for the invaluable work that they do.

The business of publishing

Unlike teachers, traditional education companies have far-reaching distribution networks for their print and digital materials. This has allowed them to become the go-to resources for classrooms around the world, giving rise to a ~$10 billion industry. Despite this advantage, they run into many of the same problems as teachers with licensing, and then some.

Hardback textbooks—preferred by students for note-taking and building reference libraries—are impossible to update without printing new editions. They can also be prohibitively expensive. Secondary markets have emerged to connect students with cheaper course materials, but students may not be allowed to write in their rentals, which must in any case be returned at the end of the the semester. Used books are often outdated or in poor condition, and they have rock-bottom resale value.

Although digital materials are cheaper and easier to update, they are still at risk of piracy, driving education companies to restrict student access and usage. Many online courses and digital textbooks require specific apps or programs that only work for a single product on a single device.

Furthermore, hardback textbooks are often bundled with access codes for digital course companions available exclusively through the campus bookstore, effectively hiding homework and quizzes behind a paywall. They also impose time limits so that students lose access as soon as the course is complete. With all of their profits, traditional education companies are still incapable of providing students with required materials without creating unnecessary costs and complications.

LRN frees these companies from worrying about how their products are used. Smart contracts protect proprietary materials from illegitimate sharing, making digital assets as easy to control as their physical counterparts. This provides the benefits of a physical text—like loaning to classmates, building a library, or reselling—without the need for digital barriers to student learning.

Relief for students

The cost of textbooks has outpaced inflation by a factor of four, and no one pays the price more than students. Squeezed between the constraints of both teachers and publishing companies, the path of least resistance leads them to engage in questionable practices.

Students trade scanned PDFs, use out-of-date textbook editions, or only purchase half of what they need. They also commit piracy by downloading software and access codes on torrent sites, putting them at risk of malware and legal action. For students who feel priced out of their education, these practices seem worth it in the long run. Public school districts feel this too, as the average textbook costs them $250 per student each year. It’s a recipe for stunted academic performance, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Final thoughts

LRN allows educational content creators to license and distribute under terms that everyone can accept. Teachers can be appropriately rewarded for sharing their work, traditional education companies can relax their restrictions knowing that their products aren’t being abused, and students won’t have to choose which classes they can afford to enroll in each semester.

When content creators work with LRN, many of the problems restricting access and driving up costs disappear. In this capacity, LRN represents a great step forward in the fairness and ease of the distribution of educational content. Whereas all parties are currently working around each other, LRN offers a new way for all to work together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured image via Pixabay.