Xplain Review: Future of Education, P2P Credentialing Systems, and Decentralized Schools
The current education system is certainly not too far from being flawed. A large part of the economy depends on it – a degree is still, the most important factor when one is trying to get a job offer in the majority of established companies. Startups and emerging tech businesses are a lot softer on degrees and don’t see them as a priority.
However, the university tuition fees, depending on the country, of course, are at the all-time highs, and the amount of value for money paid these institutions provide to freshly cooked adults is highly questionable in many cases. Average families save funds for many years, so their kids could go to a well-recognized place to (mostly) have parties and fun, and at the end of the 3rd’ish – 4th’ish year, get a piece of paper that will give a better chance to get invited to live in these “large glass buildings for grown-ups”, the corporate world, of course.
Since the late 70s, the quality of education did not change a bit, but the tuition fees skyrocketed. Because of what? Table tennis and wall climbing rooms? Swimming pools? I would like someone to look me in the eye and say that higher education is not a scam at this point. Why do education costs have to skyrocket while the prices of technology and electronics, software, clothing, food, and new cars are either going down dramatically, or staying the same?
The true intellectuals of our time saw these issues coming years ago, which they do not tolerate and complain thoughtfully. Many great ideas are also flying around. Eric Weinstein, a mathematician, the guy who coined the phrase “Intellectual Dark Web”, has revealed some secrets about how defective the education system is, throughout the recent years, that made people’s hair stand on end.
There is also a lot of healthy speculation about how the future of universities and colleges could look like. What if Samsung or Google built their own university? What if most large companies had their unique education and training course for specific disciplines?
Okay, the rant is over.
We are here to review, and discuss a brand-new startup called Xplain.us. No, it’s not Xplain.co, the AI marketing company.
This startup is trying to change quite a number of things: the way teachers and mentors work and get paid, the learning experience of a student, the lesson quality reporting and optimization, the system not being decentralized.
The majestic thing is Xplain’s approach to making the completely centralized education system decentralized. The company has taken teachings from the original Bitcoin paper, the epiphany of Satoshi Nakamoto, to apply modern economics to learning at scale. Xplain will likely prove that true decentralization can also be achieved without using the blockchain technology.
The blockchain, in some ways, is actually a bug, not a feature, despite it being largely celebrated in today’s age. I.e. When 2 parties are transacting, why there has to be the 3rd, 4th, or 7th one to approve it? Why do we have to alert the whole community when transacting simply on the locally enforced conservation laws? Even such economics, like nature, arise from gauge theory. Arguably, not-so-lovely objects like gas fees arise just from this very technology as well.
Back to the startup
Xplain is actually a marketplace for learners to find teachers, and the other way around. Students will be able to join group audio calls, similar to Clubhouse, which would be monitored and assisted by a mentor, helping them fall deeper into the subject they are working on.
A great feature Xplain has is the teacher’s ability to rate, or rank every lesson of every student who is participating. That way, both – the student, and the mentor get the motivation needed to make the best out of every lesson.
And the features don’t end here.
P2P Credentialing System Designed by Xplain
Although the company isn’t using blockchain to facilitate transactions, it still has its own unique token called Kronos (non-crypto). This token will act quite similarly to university credits, just completely revolutionized. 1 of these objects will represent 1 hour of quality learning.
We very much like and approve of this idea, it is quite similar to what Decrypt started doing with their new token created for frequent readers. Technically, it’s crypto, but can only be used on their platform exclusively, for NFTs, community rewards, rank, etc. It won’t have any ICO – it will only be a representation on how much one is reading.
What Xplain does with student validation after a certain amount of time is very interesting – if a student has collected 240 Kronos (had quality learning for 240 hours), he will be able to “win” a white belt from the mentor, spending the most time with him.
Xplain has played marvelously with Satoshi’s ideas on scarcity, supply limitations, economic status when constructing these qualification ideas.
Each mentor, after starting their journey on the platform, gets 21 belt to give one out every 6 months to the most persistent students. The startup is playing with belt colors to make these qualifications based on karate visible. The main target of a learner is to hit 10,000 Kronos tokens, which will (supposedly) be a scarce, deflationary credential.
Xplain is comparing standardized test printing to Fed’s money printing, comparing diplomas to currency which will eventually won’t matter anymore. The company tries to make every “standardized test” permanent and have some intrinsic value.
By applying the principles of Satoshi’s proof-of-work to their Xplain’s phrase, “proof-of-time”, it should be possible to drastically reduce cheating. Basically, the ledger system should mathematically make the fraudsters suffer in order to succeed – suffer more than any other student, because the system is built on valuing the party which put in the largest amount of work. It just won’t be worth it for cheaters to even try to fool the mentor. We are very excited to see what the technology will look like.
Some of the main ideas/features from Xplain:
- Building mentor credentials on value given and purely on numbers (POT, work experience)
- Student’s ability to “win” mentors
- Belts – based on the Kronos token, both objects have fixed supply, thus, deflationary
- Mentors put reputation (uniquely more valuable than any currency) one each student who gets the belt
- Main asset – approval of those with higher rank
- Limited student “seats” in a class, has to be qualified and his/her application has to be reviewed
- MIT OCW standard
- Mentor teaching quality matters, as one won’t make money if he’s bad (students don’t apply to their courses).
- Scarcity everywhere – persistent students, great mentors, belt quantity, Kronos credits
- Epiphany of capitalism – each user (student and mentor) has to compete to achieve best results on the platform
- If a student doesn’t receive a belt at the end of 6 months – he is pushed towards taking the course again and getting a more valuable qualification. (Ability to try again is not the most capitalistic value – here we slightly disagree)
- Teacher has less students than 21? Better chance of getting a belt – qualification
- Ability to earn high-level income for qualified, professional mentors
- Tons of FOMO (Fear of missing out)
Now, let's talk
In Xplain’s original P2P Credentialing System paper, critics were addressed. The question is – were the right critics addressed? I don’t think proof-of-knowledge would ever be able to stand against the proof-of-time. In such learning environments, the only thing that matters is not crediting the frauds – knowledge can be faked with cheating, especially in remote learning. The amount of time spent on a subject never lies.
The real criticism is – is our society, even the one living in the meme age, going to be able to take belts and edu-tokens seriously?
On the other hand, universities already have fake currency – it’s called credits, that let one excel and have more priorities and status.
Could Xplain’s System Ever Be Broken?
If we want to break this kind of system, we have to start from its roots. To do that, game theory could be really helpful if applied the right way.
In this case, we have 3 kinds of players with very different interests: The student, the mentor, the employer. Employers, however, don’t really play in the same universe as students and mentors, they have a separate game with the student later on.
The amount of control and power each player has over others is, arguably, the most important factor when discussing odds of “winning”. If we put the most important interests of our players on the table, and acknowledge who has the most leverage and power in this game, we might see at least some ways of predicting the outcome, or more essentially, a potential crack in the game itself.
Students’ best interest is to be qualified for certain kind work after graduation. No questions here. To achieve that, they seek to put the least amount of time and work into the subject.
Employers look for graduate’s ability to learn, intelligence, and most importantly, experience in the field they’re in (time spent practicing a trade).
Mentors are trickier to be broken down that quickly. One cannot say that the main goal of all professors is to bring the best people from school to the corporate world. One can’t also say that the target of each academic is to be fulfilled at work. And, mentor’s care for reputation is also tricky. Many want to keep or improve the reputation they have, but sometimes, some unexpected offer, or event can make even academics care less about it. When imagining the number of players at scale, it gets clear that when money is involved, even reputation doesn’t stand a chance.
Here is a simple visual:
Now, who has the most power to break the Xplain system?
Students have to do live audio calls, report their actions to mentors for recognition for persistence, their quality of involvement is entered in the system after each lesson, time of learning is the most valuable currency on the platform, which can’t be faked when competence and activity is measured by the mentor. So, I really think that students, by themselves, just have no way of hacking the system.
So, who has the most of it in this playing field?
Clearly, mentors do.
They have the ability to give away belts, the qualification on Xplain. But how, and why would a mentor give away a belt to an undeserving student? Actually, communication between these 2 parties can happen outside of the education platform. There, they have no rules at all. Offers, counter offers, and deals to “help each other” can happen, which would bring the good old word BUREAUCRACY back to life. When the number of mentors and students is large, there is clearly a chance for this to happen, even at scale, especially when the aforementioned “offers and deals” involve money. This is, as if a Bitcoin transaction was to take place outside of the Blockchain. Xplain claims that because of mentor’s fear of declining reputation, one will not be involved in these kinds of activities. I think the opposite is true. Even when mentors can “disqualify” other mentors, the problem still isn’t solved. It would be hard for mentors to know secret activities of other mentors; it is not like bureaucracy can be written on their resume. Also, why would a student, which had been “helped extensively” by a mentor, report his actions to the platform, or tell other students to try and make a deal with that mentor? If people become their own universities, in other words, businesses, they have a part to play where they write their own rules for their “institution”, even when the main activities take place on the Xplain platform. Even in a system where each mentor has to be verified by the platform, there is a chance that some of them will bring old habits of letting the evildoers in the game complete the level.
TLDR? Mentors are the ones able to break the system, if communication with a student can take place outside of the platform, where offers and deals for each other’s good can happen. Especially when there is a large number of players going back and forth.
I love the crazy ideas Xplain has. The way it differentiates from other edu-startups is that it is aiming to change the entire industry at once. That can be super difficult. I like the idea of colored belts, scarcity of credibility, and deflation. It is also crazy to imagine companies hiring people based on belt colors and amount spent with a mentor (even a crazily good one).
However, strategic partnerships can definitely help. It’s just that the concept has to go super-mainstream, because, otherwise, this scarcity doesn’t have any basis, and a company hiring could just laugh someone out if he shows an equivalent to an eDX “degree”. That is why there was a large rant in the beginning. If something changes, everything has to change – bureaucracy and boomer’ism just can’t be thrown away that easily, not with protests with torches and pitchforks, not with a revolutionary app.
It is very sad that boomers can keep doing boomer things over and over again.
Anyway, I have never heard, or read anything so revolutionary about the future possibilities of the education system. However, unfortunately, just because something sounds revolutionary, it doesn’t necessarily mean it can work at scale.