This article is a part of a collaborative series exploring how web3 could impact education - what we call ed3. Authors Scott Meyer and Vriti Saraf look to prepare the education system for what is possible in the future of learning. Topics include: NFTs, tokens, DAOs, DeSo, XR, Metaverse, DeFi, & more.
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Education institutions have been run inefficiently for a long time.
Whether a non-profit public school or a private independent university, educational offerings and school infrastructure are entirely dictated by the quality of the district or school leadership. Key stakeholders including parents, students, and teaching staff, rarely have any say in how the school operates or what should be taught and how. Too often, the expectations for state test scores or graduation rates color how curriculum is implemented.
For a long time, there weren’t too many solutions. Even with the best of intentions and the greatest education models, micro-schools, charter schools, and any other innovative systems were handcuffed by funding or quality of leadership.
Enter the DAO, or a decentralized autonomous organization.
We hypothesize the DAOs will be the future of educational institutions.
Let’s start with some foundational context.
A DAO is a community with a shared treasury. One might consider them an evolved co-op. The ethos of a DAO and a co-op are quite similar in that both types of entities strive to bring value to, and empower their community. But, DAOs are the next generation of co-ops for several reasons. Here is what makes DAOs different:
The four points above are critical to the operation of a DAO because collectively, they balance incentives with responsibility, in a transparent infrastructure.
Let’s break that down.
This means that voting, treasury allocations, token deployment, and unlockable content based on membership status are “trustless”. The automation set by a charter and coded rules allow the DAO to run efficiently, without bias, and without the need to trust any one party. Because the blockchain is trackable, current and future members can see the validity and reliability of all transactions of the DAO. This is very different than any organization... that has ever existed.
In traditional corporations, conglomerates, and co-ops, members have had to limit their activities based on the legal standing of the entity. Most didn’t risk integrating a variety of business models in fear of losing focus of a target problem, or in absence of the right talents & expertise. DAOs have specific missions & visions too, but the variety of business models that have emerged have allowed community members to benefit from the transactions they were already making.
Most DAOs are on an evolving trajectory. For example, k20 DAO is starting as a learning space for educators with the intention to move into providing grants for innovation, upskilling educators in web3, creating a talent portal, facilitating hackathons and conferences, and eventually, operating as a VC for the next tier of web3 education startups. Prior to 2021, this vision would have sounded bonkers, but today, it’s pretty common among DAOs.
People at micro and macro levels of society have experimented with all kinds of democratic structures for governance, from 1 person = 1 vote to 1 share = 1 vote, to many things in between. When giving complete equality of power to each person, those who are contributing more are undermined and decisions can lag. When giving more power to those who hold more interest in the entity, the power is lopsided and undemocratic.
DAOs can choose whatever governance structure they want. This could include a hybrid of traditional systems or more complex and technical options such as quadratic voting, which can be more easily deployed than in traditional structures. Plus, DAOs can change that structure throughout their life cycle. The biggest infrastructural issues occur when legacy systems persist even when change is necessary. DAOs can avoid that.
This may be the most impactful DAO operation. DAOs rely on a system of tokenomics, where intangible behaviors are awarded with tangible value. DAOs can have a variety of tokens that equate to a variety of privileges. Tokens can be differentiated between those that hold equity, those that allow a vote, those that open access to the community, those that grant roles, and those that unlock programming or assets.
The beauty of tokenomics is that the right combination can serve every single member’s motivation. And, the right sequence of token launches can create more excitement than NFTs. Imagine a company where members are awarded for their daily contributions in the way that matters most to them. And imagine, if a member is holding equity tokens to a community that needs to scale, how eager they will be to help scale it.
Because of the elements above, DAOs have the potential to change the way private & public institutions operate.
The first DAO was founded, ultimately unsuccessfully, in 2016 for investment. The real growth in DAOs happened in 2021 as the technology, financial instruments of crypto currency, and hype created a perfect flywheel for the growth of DAOs.
After months, or sometimes years, of lockdowns and working online, DAOs were just less weird to people. Of course we would coordinate, work, share, socialize, and learn online together! By the beginning of 2021, DAOs collectively had about a million members and the top 20 groups had $14B in digital assets.
In September of 2021, Crypto Culture and Society (CCS) blazed the trail and coined the term “learning DAO,” building "liberal arts for crypto." Numerous learning DAOs followed suit, pointing to a new way to create decentralized hubs of learning.
This model of organizing education points to a future where new centers of learning would not be physical centers at all. Rather, decentralized learning hubs that could be launched and owned by learners, opening up the benefits of education to all, including the 93% of the world that has not studied past high school.
It’s not hard to squint and see DAOs as the next evolution of the educational systems we have today.
As we noted in From Web3 to Ed3, DAOs will provide the vital infrastructure for decentralized educational experiences. The ability to gather and compensate both teachers and learners will reshape how and where we provide education.
DAOs can act as decentralized hubs of learning. Students can now join a community to learn about any topic they are interested in. Then, they can begin to apply their knowledge and work for the DAO, earning along the way.
DAOs also get us one step closer to truly personalized learning. For example, a young ambitious artist can connect and collaborate with other artists and benefit from real-time peer feedback. Alternatively, a highly academically minded young woman may feel a lot more comfortable hanging out with like-minded engineers. They can share tips on conducting their research and participate in various proposals or tasks. Intrinsic motivation becomes the norm, and we can do away with all the outdated models of the carrot and the stick.
Of course, we recognize this takes energy and drive from the learner. The most likely outcome is a spectrum of options. As is often the case in the ed3 world, the answer is: “yes, and...”. DAOs may create new models of education or just make existing models more robust.
Here’s a few ways that might happen.
The university model is often subdivided into colleges or schools. Each college has an area of expertise and the university as a whole aggregates these colleges so students can gather information across disciplines.
DAOs are perfectly situated to improve on this model.
As noted in Strategic DAO Frameworks as the Smiling DAO curve, DAOs will provide the most value as a subject matter expert in a very specific niche or as an industry aggregator.
DAOs can niche further and deeper than a typical college.
If someone wants to learn about ancient Moroccan architecture, a DAO could be created that connects expert instructors with interested students. The power of the model is the instructor does not need to be an expert on a wide range of subjects or even work as a professor full-time. Rather, the best person brings the best instruction for a specific moment.
This provides a unique advantage over existing colleges which are limited by geographic knowledge and students who are enrolled to the university as a whole.
The same concept could be applied to K-12 education. DAOs could act as micro schools with students from anywhere in the world. The students could gather online for specific learning experiences. This would be a powerful addition for students without access to education or who don’t have programs and classes in their school that they are interested in.
Taking it a step further, DAO schools could even incentivize education using their own token. Dexter is attempting to do just that.
Dexter is an accredited K-12 STEAM school in Witchita Falls, TX. They are not a DAO (yet), but they are working to become a “decentralized education experience.” Students can earn transferable credit that maps to high school requirements. To take the exams, students use DEXcoin, which they earn through assignments and homework.
DAOs can also aggregate knowledge from across topic areas. With DAO-to-DAO partnerships, SubDAOs, or a liberal arts approach to education, DAOs could bring a variety of topics into a learning pathway. Students could choose their own adventure with expert instructors.
The power of partnership enables DAOs to quickly have greater breadth and depth in any area a student might be interested in studying. The growth of smart contracts means it is possible to hire talent globally for tasks as atomized as a single lecture. Likewise, students have the flexibility to pay based on single lectures, classes, or entire programs.
The flexibility to “straddle the smiling curve” separates DAOs from traditional learning centers.
For many of us, the relationships and experiences we have during college are what we remember most fondly. DAOs offer a way to connect and make friends with people around the world.
This may feel like a poor substitute for those of us who studied in-person and enjoyed student clubs, dorm life, and adventures on campus. The truth is the vast majority of students don’t have this experience. Over 70% of students are non-traditional and nearly half of Americans don’t have a secondary degree (plus 93% of people around the world).
On top of the fact that most students don’t experience the “traditional” college life, students today actually feel more like themselves online than offline. DAOs are a perfect fit for these students. They can be themselves, connect with students with similar passions, and learn from peers around the world. Brave new world indeed.
As Kassen Qien notes, “people often join [university] clubs to 1) meet people with the same interests and 2) pad their resume for professional pursuits...DAOs use Discord channels for certain interests (art, gaming, etc). If we view DAOs themselves as clubs utilizing social/community tokens, participants would be (at least financially) incentivized to contribute to the sustainability of the organization over the long term, even after they “graduate.”
The final piece of the college experience, of course: dating. It’s a place many people find their mates (both Australian ‘mates’ and lifelong partners). If we’ve learned anything the past years, people can meet and date online. (Just don’t watch that new Netflix documentary)
Fortunately, Qien finds a potential solution for this as well. DAOs could facilitate dating and relationships. “DAO could build its own matchmaking tools for its members. They could also hold collaborative functions to mix and match certain DAOs (ex. Flamingo x PleasrDAO), something like a series of frat and sorority mixers that facilitate meeting more people.”
Most of us will say that DAOs and online experience are no replacements for an “actual” college experience. However, given the fact that this experience is out of reach for the vast majority of people in the world, DAOs and ed3 are a way to democratize - and maybe improve - social experiences.
DAOs bring the power of the purse to communities. The way that communities use this power is limitless.
Learning DAOs were the first step. In the near future, expect more experiments in learning and education as curious individuals connect with passionate teachers. The goal of education is to improve human flourishing. DAOs will help more people flourish with personalized education.
Vriti Saraf (@vritisaraf), the founder of k20 Educators, is building the Eduverse on web3, a virtual hub for educators to connect, learn and earn, collaborate, trade assets, find jobs, and explore resources. She is also the co-founder of k20 DAO, the first DAO for educators, by educators. Vriti's goal is to break down silos among educators through web3. Vriti has served as a teacher, dean, & director in public, private, & charter schools both locally & internationally across k12 & higher education.
Scott Meyer (@MrScottMeyer) is an entrepreneur and former professor working to scale and democratize education. He recently launched Ed3 - an edtech studio working to scale education. Subscribe to learn more (http://digest.ed3.gg).