Towards Academic and Skills Credentialing Standards and Distributed
Ledger Technologies
Morné Pretorius
, Nelisiwe Dlamini
and Sthembile Mthethwa
Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR),
Information and Cyber Security Centre (ICSC),
Pretoria, South-Africa
Distributed Ledger Technology, Blockchain, Education, Standardisation, Standards, Verifiable Credentials,
Skills Tracking.
Today’s internet-connected world is moving towards evermore digitisation. Consequently, the education
system globally is experiencing various problems whilst trying to keep up with this disruptive and ongoing
change that is introduced. One way to alleviate the problem is standardising how skills and academic
achievement are quantified, digitised, authenticated and persisted to achieve a means of automated verification
and matching of the current need with what skill-sets are available. This research aims to provide a starting
point towards a standardised future solution which considers existing emerging standards and technologies
to provide skills tracking capability. The existing standards, data schema, technologies and techniques are
discussed and an existing real-world prototype architecture is identified. This prototype’s terminology is then
mapped to the emerging World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards which will serve as a baseline design.
During hunter-gatherer times, there was no separation
between learning and playing and thus education used
to be an exploratory pass time, which later changed
with the need for children to do forced agricultural
labour (Gray, 2008). As agricultural automation
increased, the need for childhood labour began to
decrease, which freed up children’s time upon which
the concept of compulsory childhood education was
gradually introduced from the 16th to 19th century.
Even today education is predominantly seen as a
separation of work and play, or rather: work, then
play (Gray, 2008).
Traditional 19th and 20th-century education
systems have served the world for decades by
developing students’ skills, availing systems that are
set up to provide training and awarding their learning
with recognition and qualifications. Consequently
contributing to the preparedness and readiness of the
Digital advancements have reshaped the world
and led to innovations in education and training.
This changes traditional classroom-based learning in
various ways by introducing new learning
methodologies or, is perhaps leading us closer
to the original hunter-gatherer way of education.
This learning is backed by experience accumulated
throughout a person’s lifetime, skills developed
by completing projects, lessons learned via online
teaching systems, and self-guided information
gathering (The Mozilla Foundation et al., 2012).
These help the person to keep abreast of current skills
and obtain knowledge, especially in a time where
21st-century skills (navigating and detecting truth in
vast collections of online websites and information
sets) are required by most if not all employers. This
self-directed interest-driven learning aims to (The
Mozilla Foundation et al., 2012):
establish a broader accreditation and recognition
granularly track traditional curriculums along
with new skills and literacies;
inspire and assist students to seek new learning
capture obtained skills and achievements across
different contexts;
expose or communicate captured skills and
achievements to relevant stakeholders and
facilitate cross-context learning.
Pretorius, M., Dlamini, N. and Mthethwa, S.
Towards Academic and Skills Credentialing Standards and Distributed Ledger Technologies.
DOI: 10.5220/0010340602490257
In Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Information Systems Security and Privacy (ICISSP 2021), pages 249-257
ISBN: 978-989-758-491-6
2021 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
One problem with the existing education system
is the continuous proliferation of information and
disruptive technologies, where these education
systems often find themselves lagging and do not
recognise post-curricular or informal skills and
knowledge gained as the learner or person progresses.
Instead, educational institutions mostly require a
learner to be enrolled to study on a formally defined
learning path. The formal achievements of the learner
are awarded, leaving out potentially important skills,
knowledge and competencies obtained throughout
self-directed or lifelong learning.
There is thus an urgent need to establish an
internationally recognised method in which all
skills and knowledge can be consolidated, digitised,
authenticated and persisted in a manner where the
learner has control over their information and then
gets to amend or update it (Chakroun and Keevy,
Distinctions should be made to avoid unintended
debates around terminologies, most prominently
known as macro-credentials and micro-credentials
(Chakroun and Keevy, 2018). Macro-credentials refer
to the more traditional and formal super-sets that
represent university degrees and micro-credentials
refer to subsets that could make-up (or stack) an
equivalent macro-credential. For example, a macro-
credential could be an engineering degree whereas
a micro-credential could be the subjects that make-
up the overall degree or, it could be a series or
selection of short courses that form the equivalent
of the subjects needed to represent an engineering
One example of micro-credentials is that of
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) which started
surfacing as early as 2007 (Table 1) and has gained
traction with an increase from 16–18 million in
2014 to about 35 million registered users in 2015
(Chakroun and Keevy, 2018). One challenge that
arises with introducing MOOCs is to find a means
to match the equivalent of what MOOC represents to
that of what macro-credentials represent. If this can
be done, then learners can be notified of the amount
of work they need to do to achieve an equivalent
university degree and how far along a particular career
path they are which could foster motivation towards
formal, online or practical achievements. Another
challenge is to ensure the integrity and fairness of
MOOC when matching the equivalent competency
needed to achieve a formal or traditional degree and to
make this equivalent legible to an employer when the
learner reaches a point of employability (Chakroun
and Keevy, 2018). An advantage that could arise from
a digitised skills and achievements track record is to
match the current labour market need to what skills
and knowledge are available. However, doing this
implies analysis of the credential data which implies
access control, anonymisation and encrypted storage
if privacy is of any concern to the public to comply
to the Privacy by Design (PbD) requirements of the
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (Raul
et al., 2017; DLA Piper, 2017). In the South African
context, there are also requirements for mandatory
and voluntary disclosure of personal information and
data safeguarding under the Protection of Personal
Information Act (POPIA) (DLA Piper, 2017).
Table 1: List of online micro-credential issuer initiatives.
Year Founded Country Initiative
1997 USA, Australia IMS Digital Credentialing
2007 Ireland ALISON
2008 Germany iVersity
2011 USA Udacity
2012 USA Coursera
2012 USA EdX
2012 United Kingdom FutureLearn
2012 Japan Schoo
2012 Spain UniMOOC
2012 Brazil Veduca
2013 China Ewant
2013 China XuetangX
2013 Australia Open2Study
2013 Saudi Arabia Rwaq
2013 Russia Universarium
Table 1 lists some current MOOC initiatives,
which illustrate the early stages of credential
digitisation. The problem with these issuers is that
the credentials they issue are hosted by themselves
on central data repositories which makes these
credentials and claims (e.g. macro- and micro-
credentials) about an individual less discoverable and
interoperable with the larger education ecosystem
than it could be. It is also difficult to link
these obtained credentials to a persistent identity, as
they usually use e-mail-based authentication methods
to service their clients or learners. Furthermore,
from the perspective of more traditional certificate
authorities and education institutions that issue
macro-credentials, they mostly manage their learner
data, courses and results using inefficient and
centralised systems such as excel sheets (Gräther
et al., 2018). This makes it tedious to search for
information and present an overview which also
induces manual verification.
This research is not about any particular MOOC
or their associated strengths and weaknesses but
rather aims to illustrate the role that accompanying
ICISSP 2021 - 7th International Conference on Information Systems Security and Privacy
technologies, such as Verifiable Credentials (VC) and
Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), could play
in macro-credential or micro-credential services’
advancement. The goal is to serve the research
community towards either re-using existing efforts or
to assess the efforts that will be needed to implement
a digitally verifiable credentialling system in future.
Ideally, this system should comply with data privacy
legislation and existing standards. Regarding
interoperability, most DLTs lack standards adoption
as most are siloed with no architecture, software
design and interoperability unification approach
(International Telecommunication Union (ITU),
2019). Associated standards and interoperability
requirements that are recognised and accepted
internationally are still emerging and can serve as a
baseline for user protection and performance of these
technologies (Faridi, 2020). The contribution of this
study can therefore be summarised as follows: a) A
technology prototype architecture which incorporates
novelty by complying with emergent standards
using emergent technologies and with user centric
data control as required by recent data regulations.
b) Establish a baseline design through mapping
existing prototype terminology and components to
standards which will allow other sectors or groups
to learn from and re-use ideas. The required system
then presents multiple novelties because traditional
systems differentiate themselves to this one in various
All issued credentials and identities are hosted on
a central data repository, which is susceptible to a
single point of failure.
Traditional systems make it difficult to link
credentials to a persistent identity as they
usually use email-based authentication methods to
interact with users, i.e. learners.
Identities are less discoverable and interoperable
and are susceptible to censorship.
Section 2 briefly outlines our methodology.
Section 3.1 summarises the concepts that are a
starting point towards using standard terminology
alongside technologies that would improve future
education ecosystem interoperability. Section 3.2
discusses what relevant data schemas are available to
be used within the skills and academic achievement
context. Section 3.3 discusses paths towards
utilising these technologies to improve existing
micro-credentialling services and how they relate to
blockchain or DLT. Section 3.4 briefly touches on
what methods are available to selectively disclose
subsets of credentials, which is a requirement by
more recent regulations such as the GDPR and
POPIA. Section 4 provides a mapping to the W3C
standard’s concepts as well as recommendations to
further decentralise credential issuer authorisation
and section 5 concludes with future work and ongoing
challenges that are to be resolved if such a system is
to be instantiated successfully.
Information Systems (IS) find themselves instantiated
in the natural world because of previous design
choices that aim to satisfy human requirements. This
has led to the research method know as Design
Science Research (DSR) (Hevner and Chatterjee,
2010) and is the core method that we are required
to use as we aim to either bring new systems into
being or improve on existing systems. Where natural-
and behavioural science aim to hypothesise, collect
data, prove a hypothesis and develop theory, the DSR
method aims to understand and improve or produce
a new artifact which leads to its evaluation after
instantiation (Hevner and Chatterjee, 2010). This
work is the first phase, or rather conceptual and
architectural assessment towards what is required to
satisfy a need established by (Chakroun and Keevy,
2018). It is a push to move from what has and is being
abstractly defined in the W3C emergent standards
towards a concrete instantiation of one particular
sector use case (Otto et al., 2019). We therefore aim
to answer various questions:
1. What technologies and specifications exist
that are needed to create an international
credentialling and skills tracking system?
2. What technologies exist that enable the solution
to minimise data disclosure (PbD) for regulatory
compliance whilst still providing discoverability
of the system actor identities?
3. What standards exist that could provide future
international interoperability and also aid in
automated digital credential verification?
Various searches were conducted to identify
architectural components that are required to realise
the required credentialling and verification system.
Sources presenting trends in education digitisation
efforts, academic and online course achievements
standards along with DLT-based digitisation efforts
in the education context were collected. The sources
were then filtered based on their ability to align
with the architectural requirements defined by leaders
or pioneers in the educational digitisation field and
standards advancement entities.
Towards Academic and Skills Credentialing Standards and Distributed Ledger Technologies
3.1 Verifiable Credentials
VCs are an emerging W3C technology and standard
that enables online entities to present claims or
attestations about themselves or other entities in a
cryptographically verifiable manner. This makes
it possible for micro-credential services to prove
that a particular qualification or competency claim
is associated with an identity, or in the standard’s
context, a Decentralised Identifier (DID) (Reed et al.,
2020). A DID aims to solve the single point of
failure problem associated with centralised solutions
where traditional identities are maintained by some
custodian or central authority, for example, the
Department of Home Affairs (DHA) or a certificate
authority in the current internet ecosystem. Each
DID can refer to one or several DID documents that
contain meta-information about an entity or subject
such as public keys (verification methods or contact
In the micro- and macro-credential context
these DID documents and VCs can store academic
or life long learning achievements or subsets of
achievements. The VC and DID standards are
agnostic of the physical data storage location of the
DID and its associated document(s). This location
is referred to as a Verifiable Data Registry (VDR)
which is controlled by a controller which can be a
person, organisation, autonomous software, logical
thing or multiple of these, each with their own DID.
This DID controller can also be the person (also
referred to as the DID subject) which provides the
person or subject the ability to be in control of their
own verifiable claims or attestations. The standard is
also agnostic of many implementation details, such
as the cryptographic primitives used to generate a
DID, how to persist credential- or meta-data related
to a DID, and how to resolve or lookup a DID.
Instead, generic syntax and requirements are defined
to execute the basic Create, Read, Update, Delete
(CRUD) operations on DID associated meta-data,
which in the skills tracking context is the information
that makes up a macro- or micro-credential.
It is important to realise the abstract nature of
the four basic roles that are present within the VC
standards as depicted in Figure 1. There is the issuer
who generates a claim about a subject and binds it to
that particular subject. Then there is the verifier who
computes the cryptographic proof to verify claims
about a particular subject, and finally, there is the
holder who could be the subject or another entity
Figure 1: W3C VC data model ecosystem overview (Sporny
et al., 2019).
(organisation, autonomous software vault) that acts
as custodian on behalf of the subject (Otto et al.,
2019). All the entities that fulfil these roles are
referenced or referred to via their own DID. The
abstract and variable nature of these roles are intended
to extend the VC standard well beyond the skills
tracking context and into healthcare, finance, retail,
legal identity and devices and is beyond the scope of
this article. Here we focus only on the developments
that are in progress regarding the digitisation of the
education sector.
3.2 Education Credentialing Schemas
From Table 1 it is evident that the pioneers in
education technology and interoperability standards
advancement are the Instructional Management
Systems (IMS) global learning consortium, which
has been active since 1997. They have initiated
the development of the digital education credentials
data schema specification known as Open Badges
(OB) (Consortium, 2018b) which has been in active
practical use for close to a decade (Otto et al.,
2018) and is an open specification that is maintained
and updated across many organisations such as
Campus Labs, Credly, Mozilla, Digitalme, D2L
Corporation and Pearson (Consortium, 2018b). A
worldwide view regarding OB usage can be accessed
at and a list of badge issuers are
presented at
The OB specification serves as lexicon or
vocabulary that can structure the data that make up
skills or educational achievements, much like how
website developers can use to structure
data on their pages to allow search engines to more
easily discover or crawl and understand published
data. This discoverability is also one of the ten
design goals of the W3C VCs specification (Reed
et al., 2020). These schemas define the make-
up of the information to establish a form of re-
use and interoperability. There are other significant
similarities in how OBs function when compared to
W3C VCs which lays good groundwork for future
ICISSP 2021 - 7th International Conference on Information Systems Security and Privacy
standardisation and interoperability. This is due
to an underlying data format that is used by both
OBs and VCs known as JavaScript Object Notation-
Linked Data (JSON-LD) and in addition, JSON-LD
signatures which are used to authenticate claims or
credentials cryptographically. JSON-LD provides
web-developers the ability to structure their data
according to a pre-defined data schema which is
maintained by affiliates from Google, Microsoft,
Yahoo and Yandex in the case of
From an identity perspective, OBs use a string-
type identifier (predominantly e-mail addresses) to
associate an assertion or credential with an issuer
and/or subject, although there are efforts underway to
support the alternative DID-based identity integration
within the "Open Badges Validator" (Otto et al.,
2018). This would de-couple the OBs from
central points of failure and provide badge holders
more freedom as to where their badges are
kept and provide decentralised verification in the
future. Currently, OBs utilise centralised verification
methods (HostedBadge and SignedBadge) which
are only associated with an e-mail or centrally
hosted identity which is more prone to attack and
compromise. Two methods or options are listed by
(Otto et al., 2018) that could align the OB schema
or data model with that of the W3C DID and VC
standards which would advance the efforts of the
IMS digital credentials initiative in terms of security
although a majority of the credential information
remains only authenticated and not encrypted. It
is thus important to consider the privacy guidelines
defined in the W3C VC documentation to prevent
domain cross-correlation and to provide sufficient
anonymisation, particularly when references and
proofs of credentials are stored on an immutable
DLT network infrastructure which persists the data.
This could stand in contrast to what is required by
the GDPR which grants individuals the right to be
forgotten (Raul et al., 2017) and requires credential
mutability or revocation.
OBs also feature a badge "baking" specification
(Consortium, 2018a) where micro- or macro-
credential data is merged or embedded into an image
file format such as a Portable Network Graphic (PNG)
or Scalable Vector Graphic (SVG). This functionality
is also consolidated with the W3C VC standards since
it is currently represented as a JSON-LD document
but should ideally also be representable as a DID
document. Another analogous concept within the
OB specification is the badge backpack which relates
to the holder defined in the W3C VC standards.
The OBs ecosystem also cannot currently issue the
same BadgeClass or badge type from a different
issuer (Otto et al., 2018) which is analogous to,
for example, all chemical engineering degrees being
issued by one university only. If these similarities
can be aligned with the W3C DID and VC standards
specifications, then the OB schema could become the
de facto vocabulary to digitise education and skills or
competencies and would be on the right track towards
interoperability across the different issuers, subjects,
holders and verifiers.
3.3 Distributed Ledger Technologies
A DLT is defined by the W3C as follows: “A
distributed database in which the various nodes use
a consensus protocol to maintain a shared ledger in
which each transaction is cryptographically signed
and chained to the previous transaction”(Reed et al.,
2020). A DLT or blockchain is a form of public
utility with two predominant operational settings,
namely permissionless and permissioned. In the
permissionless setting, anyone who wishes to take
part in hosting the service is incentivised to join in,
which provides the service by the people and for the
people. In the permissioned setting, the number of
participatory nodes are agreed upon beforehand and
are trusted to provide the shared information service.
The intersection at which DLTs meet the W3C
DID and VC standards begin with a DID method,
which defines the implementation details necessary
to make decentralised authentication possible instead
of having central points of failure that host identities.
Noteworthy is the ability of the W3C DID documents
concept to also contain biometric service provider
contact information to verify identity authenticity
against a biometric vector as a multi-factor.
Many DID implementations have been defined
by DLT development teams and are listed on the
DID methods registry. If the OB data schema
updates suggested by (Otto et al., 2018) are accepted
by the greater IMS digital credentialling developer
community and applied, it would make it possible
to utilise any of the listed DLT networks to provide
identification alongside the IMS OB skills and
academic achievements data schema. By analysing
the DID methods registry, as of June 2020, there are
58 different provisional DID method implementations
in total. There are 3 implementations that run on the
Bitcoin network, 4 for Hyperledger Fabric and 9 for
Ethereum. Two of the 9 Ethereum implementations
can also operate on additional networks from an
interoperability point of view. The did:signor
method can additionally operate on the Hedera
Hashgraph, Quorum and Hyperledger Besu networks
and the did:gatc method can function on the
Towards Academic and Skills Credentialing Standards and Distributed Ledger Technologies
Hyperledger Fabric, Hyperledger Besu and Alastria
DLT networks.
The question that needs to be asked is what does
the education credentialling context stand to gain
when using a distributed system such as a DLT? The
answer lies in the assessment around what properties
are provided by these technologies? A DLT typically
possesses 3 significant properties:
1. It provides a temporal ordering of events or
claims without the need to synchronise the clocks
of the network nodes that provide or host the
network ledger service infrastructure and acts as
a form of public utility.
2. It provides immutability that ensures historical
integrity by including hashes (unique identifiers
of a data frame) of the previous data frame
or block in the next data frame and by non-
deterministically gossiping this to all other nodes.
3. It provides persistence of data and resilience by
redundantly storing multiple copies of the data in
a distributed manner.
What is to be gained by the digitisation of any
information is firstly a reduction in administrative
overhead through automation, and this surely is a
need for most traditional education institutions that
still conduct paper-based verification. From the
perspective of the MOOCs, who already possess
digitisation, they stand to gain a form of globally
recognisable persistent identity along with persistent
credential information provided that these identity
implementations comply with the aforementioned
standards and that global consensus is reached around
the adoption of said standards. The entire education
ecosystem can gain historical information unification
through the temporal ordering property, as they do
not need to keep track of which claims were made
in which order or at which time. This should also
reduce fraud via automated auditability because of the
immutable event history that resides on the ledger.
Cryptographic verification also provides additional
automation through the immutability property, along
with built-in authentication through the cryptographic
signatures that are linked to a DID.
Although there are many efforts underway
(according to existing surveys) to provide education
and skills digitisation and verification in conjunction
with DLTs (Hameed et al., 2019; Yumna et al.,
2019), very few of them aim towards the DID
and VC standards and very few of them utilise
the same standards-based roles terminology in their
descriptions. One project that stood out in terms
of alignment with the mentioned standards and the
IMS OB data schema specification (Labs, 2019), was
Blockcerts by Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(MIT) Media Labs, which has submitted a proposal
(Ronning and Chung, 2019) towards alignment and
Another project that stood out is the Blockchain
for Education platform defined by (Gräther et al.,
2018) because they incorporated the IMS OB data
schema within their implementation. Also notable
was the requirements they gathered through real-
world surveys which identify role-players within the
more traditional macro-credential setting as well as
components for DLT inclusion.
3.4 Selective Disclosure
Recent data regulations require PbD and user centric
data access control, which can be addressed by
incorporating selective disclosure into the design.
Selective disclosure is also related to the concept of
generating a subset of the fields within a particular
attestation or credential that claims something about
a subject. In W3C terminology, this is referred to
as a verifiable presentation. Because information can
be easily copied from one hard-drive to another, it is
more secure to generate a view or presentation of the
data and to minimise the amount of information that
gets disclosed.
There seem to exist two methodologies to achieve
selective disclosure to the best of our knowledge.
One is to use a zero-knowledge proof as described
in (Sonnino et al., 2018) and the other is to pack
the information into a Merkle tree data structure
as described in (Patka, 2019). Zero-knowledge
proof cryptography is iterative and asymptotically
approaches the certainty that a claim is valid without
revealing the actual knowledge or information itself,
and care should be taken to ensure that computational
efficiency is not compromised that the system’s
performance remains sufficient. Merkle tree proofs
reveal and expose a subset of the VC to the verifier,
but is more computationally efficient.
Standardisation is required to achieve the urgently
required and international credentialling system
described by (Chakroun and Keevy, 2018). What we
found missing in existing DLT-based credentialling
systems are the alignment with current internet
identity and credentialling standards. These standards
relate to the concept of Self Sovereign Identity
(SSI) and provide a censorship resistant alternative
to current e-mail or password-based identity. The
ICISSP 2021 - 7th International Conference on Information Systems Security and Privacy
following lists are an attempt to relate the components
and actors defined by (Gräther et al., 2018) and shown
in Figure 2 to the concepts defined in the W3C DID
and VC specifications and standards where actors can
instead be identified by their own persistent and life-
long identity or DID:
Figure 2: Blockchain for Education architecture (Gräther
et al., 2018).
issuer - Accreditation Authority (AA) which is
identified by a quorum of authoritative entities
(multiple DIDs), issues a credential to the
authority at the next level down the hierarchy (see
Figure 3). This authorisation credential could
contain a multi-signature or threshold signature
(Hwang and Chang, 2005). The signature’s hash
is calculated which the AA timestamps on the
DLT so that anyone that looks up any k of n
total signer DIDs (Gräther et al., 2018), and their
associated public keys, can verify the authenticity
and temporal or historic issuance.
issuer - Certification Authority (CA) issues a
certificate to the Certifier (MOOC or academic
institution) and stores the hash of this certificate
on the DLT. This certificate could also be verified
by the learner in a similar way, except for using
only a single DID and public key associated with
the Certifier.
issuer - Certifier which issues and signs the
academic credentials achieved by the learner and
timestamps its unique hash on the DLT.
subject - Learners or certificate recipients that
can present their DID to the employer or
perhaps include a barcode or QR-code on their
Curriculum Vitae (CV) that resolves to their
DID and consequently their credentials under
cryptographic conditions.
verifier(s) - Employers that can resolve the
learner’s DID and DID document which contains
the same hash that is verified against the hash
that was stored on the DLT by the Certifier. This
temporal integrity check includes the learner and
issuing institutions DID associated asymmetric
cryptographic signatures which could also be
Figure 3: Blockchain for Education Identity Hierarchy
(Gräther et al., 2018).
From the aforementioned list in conjunction with
Figure 3, it is shown that there are three layers of
issuers in the identity hierarchy. The information
formats associated with the DIDs are as follows:
DID Document - CA Profile Information and
associated public key(s) used to establish a secure
communications channel with a system actor.
Verifiable Credential (VC) - Learner certificate or
macro-credential or micro-credential information
with attached cryptographic proofs such as
Entities that hold and persist information related
to the actors:
holder - Document Management System in this
instance is centralised and could be further
decentralised by a DID document that resolves
to one or more VC, stored in an encrypted
distributed vault.
holder - Distributed File System relates to
a storage mechanism that holds any public
information such as the DID document which
holds actors’ public keys that establish a secure
communications channel between actors.
Both the Blockcerts and Blockchain for Education
platforms store only the hash of the claims
or credentials on a blockchain, which makes
sense from a privacy and GDPR compliance
perspective where the blockchain merely acts as a
temporal (immutable event history) and authenticity
verification mechanism. This also limits the overuse
of blockchain storage capacity since it is a form
of public utility in the permissionless DLT setting.
Both implementations currently use public keys
Towards Academic and Skills Credentialing Standards and Distributed Ledger Technologies
as identifiers showing scope for DID inclusion as
proposed in (Ronning and Chung, 2019), because
their "strictly hierarchical" identity architecture is
prone to a single point of compromise at the AA
(Gräther et al., 2018).
Another notable system proposed by (Gresch
et al., 2019) is focussed to suit specific needs
of the University of Zurich (UZH). It does not
introduce any form of standardisation across other
educational entities to bring them in alignment.
Particularly since various organisations are now
exploring standardisation to enable interoperability
of technologies and improvements in identity. The
lack in alignment with standards is concerning, since
standards could prove very helpful, i.e. harmonizing
terminology and definitions used, minimising
redundancy, etc. What we have found valuable was
the overlap in requirements from (Gresch et al.,
2019) and (Gräther et al., 2018) which will be used
in the second DSR iteration to consolidate lower
level requirements for further analysis and particular
technology selection.
This research has focussed on the required technical
components, standardisation efforts and data schema
specifications that are currently underway, and how
they relate to the use of DLTs in education and skills
credentialling. DLTs provide a single source of truth
that could bring international education authorities in
alignment with each other and aid in standardisation
and auditability across ecosystem players while
automating credential verification processes. DLT
could solve the data proliferation problem where
information systems currently have duplicate data that
operate in centralised and mostly isolated silos.
Technological components are discussed that are
required to achieve the end goal of digitising,
consolidating, authenticating and persisting all
attested knowledge and achieved skills alongside a
life-long persistent identity. Current prototypes that
align with required technologies and that use DLT in
education credentialling are identified and mapped to
the W3C emerging standard terminologies and will
serve as a starting architecture towards implementing
a credential and skills tracking system that complies
with current data privacy laws within our research
and development group. The next phase in this DSR
process is to consolidate specific requirements from
literature and assess DID compliant DLTs in terms of
their ability to satisfy these requirements.
Some problems cannot be solved by technologies
such as DLTs and cryptography until a widespread
agreement is reached around how skills and
knowledge can be recognised and quantified through
frameworks to enable skills matching to the market
need as well as matching the make-up of traditional
macro-credentials through standardisation. One
example effort in this regard is the Competencies
and Academic Standards Exchange® (CASE®)
from the IMS global learning consortium and its
associated competency framework tool: OpenSALT.
Further analysis and comparison are required between
competency measurement frameworks such as:
World Reference Levels (WRL) from the United
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organisation (UNESCO).
European Qualifications Framework (EQF)
from the European Quality Assurance Register
(EQAR) and the European Association for
Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA).
National Qualifications Framework (NQF) from
the Department of Higher Education & Training
(DHET) in South Africa.
Connecting Credentials from the Lumina
Foundation in the United States of America
Notably, the South African Qualifications
Authority (SAQA) has begun an initiative to align
the WRLs with the South African NQF but it is
still unclear how far they have progressed (Jaftha
and Samuels, 2017; South African Qualifications
Authority (SAQA), 2018). The accreditation bodies
that have implemented the listed frameworks could
form the issuer hierarchy from Figure 3 or an
accreditation group. If at least the issuer, subject and
verifier entities from Figure 2 are each assigned a
DID, the signature issuance hierarchy from Figure 2
could be replaced with a multi-signature or threshold
signature strategy to form a flat or ring structure of
signatures where anyone with a DID could verify the
issued credentials.
One concern from an implementation perspective
is the amount of DID document resolutions that
might be induced when implementing such a system
and ensuring that the servers that host such digital
documents are always available. Each DID and
document lookup results in a communications call
to a server, and care has to be taken during design
time to keep DID document resolutions/lookups to a
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Towards Academic and Skills Credentialing Standards and Distributed Ledger Technologies