Towards a Skills-Based Marketplace: Revolutionising Skill Verification with a Digital Wallet

In this interview, Dan McFadyen, Managing Director of Edalex engages with Taylor Kendal, President of Learning Economy Foundation to explore LEF’s initiatives, including LearnCard and the LearnCloud, aiming to revolutionise education and employment record infrastructure through open-source, interoperable systems a.k.a Digital Skill Wallet. Their conversation anticipates a future where individuals have greater control over their learning and employment agenda, fostering socio-economy mobility rebalancing and lifelong learning opportunities, while the LEF’s vision extends to stewarding this infrastructure’s widespread adoption and impact over the next five years and beyond.

The conversation is divided into 6 thought-provoking chapters, each shedding light on different aspects of their covered topics.

Watch on Channel Edalex (YouTube)

Chapters

1:25 – Learning Economy Foundation’s Innovative Path and its LearnCard’s Impacts
7:19 – Transforming Scouts Recognition through the LearnCard’s Digital Wallet Technology
17:36 – Unlocking Education and Employment Opportunities with Digital Wallets and Strategic Partnerships
21:45 – Navigating the Applicability and Impacts of LEF’s Open Digital Wallet Tool – LearnCard
27:47 – Bridging Data Silos through Interoperability – LEF’s Vision for their LearnCloud Initiative
34:03 – LEF’s Vision in Connecting Learning to Work towards the Skills-based Economy

Chapter videos

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Transcript

(This transcript has been lightly edited for readability)

Dan McFadyen (DMcF) – Hi, I’m Dan McFadyen, Co-founder and Managing Director at Edalex. I’m thrilled to be joined today by Taylor Kendal. Taylor is an educator, systems thinker, digital nomad, novelty junkie and President of the nonprofit Learning Economy Foundation (LEF). Beyond work with LEF, he is also a community steward with ETHDenver, which is the largest Web3 hackathon in the whole world, and is focused on equitable social impact – Web3, digital identity and privacy, exploring the future of education, digital trust, and occasionally writing to make sense of it all. Taylor, thank you so much for joining me today.

Taylor Kendal (TK) – Absolutely. Yeah – Dan, good to see you. And thanks for making space.

DMcF – My pleasure. And when we first met back in 2021, we were part of a skills collaborative project with the Open Skills Network. And LEF was assisting with that. And for us, that was a really formative and insightful process that really helped to form our openRSD platform. And LEF was really instrumental. So thank you for that.

TK – And yeah, great to connect again.

Chapter 1: Learning Economy Foundation’s Innovative Path and its LearnCard’s Impacts

DMcF – And maybe that’s a good place to start. LEF has had such a great track record up until that point, and since then, it’s just been amazing. So, we’d love to hear if you can share more about LEF, your history, your mission, and what you’ve been working on.

TK – Sure. Yeah. I’ll give you the abbreviated version here. It’s funny, I mean, I came on after spending a lot of time in traditional post-secondary education and working on systems change. When it hit my radar and I met some of the folks who had been thinking about it, I didn’t have another option but to say I’d love to support and come on board. So yeah, I believe strongly in allowing serendipity to do its work. We have a close friend, Simone Ravioli, who calls himself a serendipity engineer, and I think there are folks who play that role in the world. But yeah, I mean, the inception and some of the early thinking, which I then got into, were born. Christopher Foley, our CEO, likes to talk about it quite literally at high altitude or some folks in Switzerland dreaming big about what the future of education could ultimately look like. This was at a time when new digital assets, digital currencies, and cryptocurrencies were starting to hit the radar. The Bitcoin whitepaper had been dropped into the world. So as the story goes, there were a number of big thinkers imagining what it would look like for quite literally rethinking a new economic model where knowledge, skills, and education sit at the center and are the currency of value. So, you know, quite literally human capital as the base asset that we could build on top of, as opposed to, I think, more traditional capital that we all are still perfectly happy to use and interact with. So that was the origin, just really trying to rethink what it would mean for human beings and the data they produce to be a form of currency where you can think about new economic systems. Hence, Learning Economy Foundation was born. I came in a year into that project, which was a lot of thinking, doing a lot of community development, a lot of R&D up to that point. And for another couple of years into the project, which again, origins were around the 2017 timeframe, but since then, we’ve moved from a lot of R&D work into more practical – ‘Let’s really put some of these ideas into action!’ So just in the last couple of years, I guess I’ve shifted into really trying to support the projects that are putting it forward. You mentioned the Open Skills Network. There are others that fit into that bucket, but yeah, that’s the not-so-quick-and-dirty version of how LEF was born.

DMcF – No, that’s wonderful. Thank you for that. Now, the one area that I’d love to zoom in on and really explore with you is LearnCard – an open-source digital wallet. What does that mean? What does it do? And who’s it for?

TK – Yes. So, part of that shift into the practical and trying to build some technology that’s useful to bring about that future, the future state of learning as currency, the LearnCard as a Software Developer Kit (SDK) was born. We’ve got a really impressive technical team – Learning Economy studios that sits alongside Learning Economy Foundation. And you know, the thinking was there’s a lot of interest in portable assets, even beyond education, digital wallets, these things started to emerge. We all, those in the privileged Western world, certainly leverage a digital wallet in some sense, whether it’s credentials for boarding a flight or whether it’s Apple or Google Pay, we all have versions of these things. So, the thought was – Let’s build something that’s radically accessible, that is open source and free for those who want to start this journey and put together some very deeply technical standards and try to abstract that into the background and let them be the power, but then also build front-end components that make for really usable applications that individuals can actually interact with. So yeah, it’s less of a singular application, more about a starting point and collection of components. A lot of our origins come from the work of LEGO, so we have a lot of that sort of mental frame. What does it mean to sort of get these powerful blocks and construct them into things that are helpful and useful, and LearnCard has represented that for learner credentials, worker credentials, not trying to be the next Apple Pay – That’s not the goal. Open-source learning and employment infrastructure by way of an SDK. That’s the idea.

Chapter 2: Transforming Scouts Recognition through the LearnCard’s Digital Wallet Technology

DMcF – Brilliant! The LEGO metaphor is very apt, as you said, for illustrating the concept of building blocks and connecting them in different ways. How exactly do you connect them? I’d love to explore what you’ve done with the Scouts. As an eager scout myself, the concept of earning badges, whether merit badges or digital badges, certainly resonates. The Scouts, as a global organisation, have been recognising skills for over 110 years. So, could you tell me about the Scouts’ past and how they’ve put it to the test?

TK – Yeah, it’s very exciting. We approached that project as learners, considering that recognition, badging, and credentialing have largely been analog practices for over a century. We feel super fortunate to have had the opportunity to partner up and explore what it would mean to combine their methodology and experience with a version of LearnCard – ScoutPass. ScoutPass was born out of merging those two worlds together. It’s still early days, but we’re excited about it. We launched just a few months ago at a few global conventions. We had the chance to put it into the hands of numerous scouts. We’ve issued, I believe, 50 or 60,000 badges within ScoutPass. These are digital forms of recognition, offering various means of recognition, both formal and informal, which troop leaders and others can use. We’re now actively working with partners to expand this into other countries. Through this project, we’ve learned a lot about the expansive network of the Scouts and their universal reach across nearly every country on earth. So, we’re excited to see where it goes. We’re transitioning from an initial proof of concept phase to solidifying this partnership, bringing open-source digital infrastructure to the world of Open Recognition, which has been doing this for a long time. It’s a super cool partnership, and we feel very fortunate.

DMcF – Well said! I’m sure the feeling is mutual. Let’s delve a bit deeper. You’ve already given examples like Google Pay or the Apple Wallet, which most people are familiar with. But what functionalities are you bringing to the Scouts? What can they do with ScoutPass, and what are some of your thoughts on where you would like to take this?

TK – Yeah, leaning back on the LEGO metaphor, our goal is always to meet people where they are. We strive to be contextually responsive, making ScoutPass feel like a native application that users are accustomed to. So, we’ve incorporated colors, iconography, and native visualizations familiar to scouts. For example, we’ve integrated a campfire as the central button for the home screen, among other fun elements. Additionally, from a practical standpoint, we heavily rely on verifiable credentials, a powerful open web standard pioneered through W3C. This provides not only visually appealing badges but also ensures deep trust and cryptographic security, reinforcing the value of recognition from a trusted organisation like the Scouts. We’re focused on building value into these new forms of credentials, badges, or recognition, rather than solely focusing on profit. It’s about recognising knowledge and skills as the currency, ultimately benefiting individuals and society.

DMcF – That’s a very public test. It’s great to hear about that success. Much of what you’re saying, Taylor, resonates deeply with our focus and passion at Edalex around skills and recognising them as the currency, enabling everyone to pursue their desired pathways. I want to explore this further. One comment you made that I love is about meeting people where they are. Whether it’s Pearson, the Scouts organisations, or through your work with the LEGO Foundation, they’re all digital natives. So, you’re bridging the gap from analog concepts like merit badges to verifiable credentials, empowering Scouts and troop leaders to share and utilize their skills more effectively than traditional badge systems.

TK – Exactly! It’s about recognising the value of both the digital and physical realms. We’ve learned that it’s not an either-or situation; it’s about leveraging new technologies while appreciating the value of tangible objects. We come from a digital-first mindset, but we’re also learning from the physical world. It’s a dynamic project where we’re constantly evolving in both directions.

Chapter 3: Unlocking Education and Employment Opportunities with Digital Wallets and Strategic Partnerships

DMcF – Brilliant. Then, broadening out, why now? Why is now the time for digital wallets? You mentioned the app on Google. So is it partially that? Is it COVID? And for many of us, we’re used to having to share the concept of ‘yes, here is my vaccination status,’ or is it the technology, or are we becoming a digital-first or a digital and analog world? But yeah, do you think people are ready? From that experience with Scouts, with the LEGO Foundation, with other partners, is the world ready for this? Are we still all learning?

TK – Yeah. I mean, it’s an evolution, I would say. There’s no specific point at which I would say there’s a component that just feels like a bit of an imperative because of the breakdown of trust in institutions. I think there are some bigger stories at play as to why moving in these directions makes sense and trying to really build ethical and human-centered systems. Like much bigger conversations, we could probably have a whole other hour on. So one, yes, in certain contexts, we’re learning folks are absolutely ready. And I think you’re in a similar position at Edalex. You’re starting to identify those who are willing to push forward, maybe more aggressively than they would have in the past. You know, finding new paradigms, really trying to change systems for the better. So, yes, folks are ready, but meeting people where they are like we were, I think, just open to finding the right partnerships and the right folks that feel like it’s the right time. But on top of that, this is maybe more personal than coming from life, which is, I also just think there’re broader societal factors. I’m compelled to do some of the work just because I think we’re seeing where the traditional, or Web 2.0, digital systems are not always serving those that need it most. Certainly, individuals as unique humans kind of get lost in the corporate structure or the ad model, to take your pick. But I think part of the goal is to re-center each person in their own digital lives. What does it mean for me to have agency, true autonomy, and see that the things I can know and do add value in the world, mapping those two opportunities? I’d love to kind of stay on that thread all day. It really pulls me personally.

DM – Well, no, I agree. I think we’ll stay here a little bit longer just because it’s something we’re absolutely passionate about as well. I’m thinking about the college degree no longer being the signal to hire or the currency that it once was. So how do we give people that voice for their skills, for their achievements? But with declining tertiary education participation around the world, and yet, you know, we have full employment in a number of countries around the world, so it’s the war for talent. There are so many push and pull factors here that it really does make sense on so many levels to enable the learner – that recipient to have agency and to give them that voice.

Chapter 4: Navigating the Applicability and Impacts of LEF’s Open Digital Wallet Tool – LearnCard

DMcF – So reluctantly coming off of our soapbox, and then coming back to LearnCard, you’ve created this as open source software, which is wonderful. And we work on an open source platform as well, and openEQUELLA, something that we felt very passionate about as well. So how could an organisation get started? What do you do to help organisations? And obviously you talked about your great partnerships with the Scouts and the LEGO, but how would someone get started? How do they know if LearnCard is right for them?

TK – Yeah, reach out and let’s chat about it. That’s the easy answer. Yes, that’s part of the role I play. I love to just discuss any of this and where it works, or makes sense. But I mean, from a practical level, learncard.com got sort of an on-board form. We work across sort of three models or layers. Our initial push is the open source. And if you have folks that have some technical background, and can go and make use of the SDK, or some of the components being built by the broader ecosystem, certainly openEQUELLA. There are any number of organisations that are all plugging into this work, and making tools available – That don’t always need us. So please make use of these things. They are meant to be sort of tinkered with. Let us know. That’s usually like – we would love to tell the story of any of this stuff that becomes impactful. So that’s the one ask on the use of open source – Let us know so we can help tell your story. But yeah, we often offer support and come alongside folks that have an interesting idea and a project, and just need some lower level technical support or some consulting around how to get moving. We’ve got a lot of resources and other partners. So most of the work fits in that bucket, and that helps us stay in motion as a nonprofit. Then the third option, we also are happy if it’s the right fit to just scope what’s needed and take it on as a project that we’re really leading and kind of doing front to back. But we’re open. Easy answer is reach out, we’re happy to chat about any of this sort of work, and want to help support those that are aligned philosophically, and see a similar vision.

DMcF – That’s great. And having met Chris, and a number of others at LEF, I’ve been incredibly impressed with not only the passion but also the technical prowess and other aspects that are really important to bring it together as a whole and make it work. That’s great. And so are you seeing certain types of organisations that come to LEF? Is it universities, is it government, is it nonprofits? Is it companies, for profits? Is it any and all, or is there a sweet spot for LearnCard?

TK – Yeah, I guess the double-edged sword of this, I mean, there’s very few lanes that we don’t feel there’s reason to sort of plan. So yeah, I mean I would say, all of the above, we’ve done amazing work at a Community college in Tennessee, a mountain state. We’re currently doing work in Colorado, in Montana, under this go forward initiative – so very much traditional there. But then, you know, with LEGO, we’ve got some interesting things going on with gaming. Certainly with Scouts, I guess those would be considered more non-traditional, non-formal. All of the above. We also still love to do sort of research and R&D work, and have an ongoing research project around LearnCloud, which is this sort of broader umbrella and partnership that we’ve recently been working towards. So yeah, I mean… again, I love systems thinking and complexity, and I think most of the folks doing this work kind of have to love complexity to some degree. So because learning is universal, the diversity of what that represents across contexts – culturally and geographically, that is absolutely unique. So I think we have to be universal in some sense if we’re really going to try to move towards this admittedly ambitious vision of a learning economy. And in a very real sense, we will be like to look at all angles. And right now, you know, there’s good momentum in certain pockets, usually driven by leadership and people, and folks that have been kind of moving this direction. But we’re also open to new angles. There’s always something interesting. Obviously, AI and what it represents now kind of put a new interesting layer over the top of a lot of this work. Just within LEF and data have been contextualised in an interesting new way. So we’re actively exploring all of that as well right now.

Chapter 5: Bridging Data Silos through Interoperability – LEF’s Vision for their LearnCloud Initiative

DMcF – Brilliant. And as you said, it’s the complexity and the infrastructure, and integration behind the scenes to provide that seamless experience for the end users. That’s so important. And I suppose in terms of keeping you and the rest of the team grounded, having ‘Learning Economy’ as the organisation’s name does keep you grounded to say ‘this is our North Star’. This is where we’re headed to help build the foundations on that. You mentioned LearnCloud. So tell us more. What is behind that? And what is that name?

TK – Yeah. This, in some ways, was, I guess always, in motion. But only by way of partnerships, and some of the way, we saw certain standards, and technologies converging. So it was only formalised recently, but we realised that it was sort of always happening, even though we hadn’t put like an aim on it. So LearnCloud really is a partnership and a suite of tools that we just see as very complementary. Learning Economy with LearnCard, and that sort of SDK and Digital Wallet continue to evolve as an open source stack. But that’s a large piece we’re bringing to the table. We’ve worked closely with the DXtera Institute for a number of years and they’ve done amazing work in just building connectors, means of plugging into more traditional data systems. So things like a Student Information System (SIS), or an Learning Management System (LMS) or these powerful, but often … this is just the reality of how, certainly in a higher ed or post-secondary context, or just any large educational data system like these things have evolved and become pretty complicated. But they all matter, and there’s large sets of data being used and often, personal data – So kind of privacy considerations. Anyway, DXtera Institute has been working in that world and has a lot of aligned philosophies around making things accessible and really trying to build public goods. So they do a lot of really great integral system to system data plumbing work. And then BrightHive is another organisation public benefit corporate we’ve worked with, quite a bit through a number of years, and they do really amazing, powerful work when it comes to data visualisation, and analytics and really, you know, connecting data in a way
that’s both ethical, but also then actionable. You know, what can you do? You start to connect data sets and systems, and so those are three of organisations that put the things we do well together, and that is loosely now under this broader banner of LearnCloud which is our attempt to make new education… and learning and employment record infrastructure easy to implement and deploy with whatever suite of those tools is most important for a specific purpose or ecosystem, and also bringing in a number of just powerful data sets that already exist. So really building out a robust set of existing connections into data that’s already out in the world, you guys are certainly squarely in this bucket, knowing why that’s important and how much you can gain out of using data at scale, but also respecting that data is connected to individuals. So yeah, it’s again, with more complexity, it is sort of simple infrastructure, but comes with a lot of history and a lot of expertise that has been developed across our three organisations for a long time.

DMcF – Wonderful – that list is an amazing list of interoperable systems that you’ve set and built up over the years. So that’s yeah, fantastic. Just scrolling through that list of different platforms, data sources, etc., is very impressive. And as that ecosystem grows, and then ultimately the impacts that we can make in terms of those Learning and Employment Records (LERs), and securely transmitting that information between these platforms is incredible.

TK – I think we’re also like collectively just pushing on the social side of why open data and trying to break down walls and silos as opposed to erecting new sort of data silos. I think that’s probably part of the shared vision, and that sits in the ethos process across LearnCloud, which we all want to put a little more pressure on. Yeah, allowing data to move and be useful to individuals as opposed to, you know, being locked and sort of only having value to maybe a single organisation, often some corporate interest, whatever that might look like. So yeah, breaking down the barriers around data that ultimately we as individuals are creating this risk.
DM – But that’s right, but it is. Yeah we should be on it right too. We need to be in control, to have agency over our own data. So there is a huge tug of war, as you know very, very well. So yeah kudos to you and your partners on what you’re doing there.

Chapter 6: LEF’s Vision in Connecting Learning to Work towards the Skills-based Economy

DMcF – Now I’ve taken up a lot of your time, but I do have two more questions for you. So it’s time to bring out your crystal ball, and you know, with your work in the in the digital wallet space,Where do you think we’ll be in five years? Which on one hand seems like a long way off, but at the pace at which the months are rolling by, it’ll be here seemingly tomorrow. But yeah, where would you like to see things shaping up in that space? 

TK – Yeah, I’m glad you said five. I feel like I can still feel useful in that timeframe. You start getting into 10+ years . The answer will always be ‘I have no idea’. And that’s the wisest answer. I think where I truly hope we will be, and this isn’t just hopeful, able to see more connection points around those already doing the work. An interoperable systems where I, as an individual, have the freedom to make choices, both when it comes to technology, but also just how that enables various decisions. What school I’m going to how that maps through to certain jobs that really fit my interests and my skill sets. So I think in five years we’re going to be in a very interesting place and, and hopefully really see a rebalancing socially of those that have had access and opportunity, and those that really haven’t either by bad luck, or quite direct – systematic exclusion of having opportunity to do certain things. So I hope to see that sort of rebalancing by way of these open tools and technologies at a fraction of the cost. And again, I think the sort of most optimistic version of some of these alarms and AI wave sort of hitting us in the face, there’s a version of this I think that’s very important and powerful. So, those things are converging with some of the tools, again, LearnCard being one of many. Yeah, seeing a very different architecture, and complexion to what education represents. It’s not about getting the singular degree from Harvard, or naming your Ivy of choice for, or I don’t know… what is the Ivy League equivalent? 

DMcF – The Sandstone Universities of Australia – 

TK – So, yes – seeing a lot more empowerment both at the institutional level when it comes to trade schools and community colleges, and those doing just really powerful, practical work, plugging into industries and jobs that are available, seeing that all just continue to blur, and folks feeling like they have the tools and resources to make the choices that they feel, or their network or their parents feel , you know, those are part of influence, that sphere of influence, feeling that those are very real choices as opposed to, right now it’s kind of like  ‘Cool – There’s some interesting tools, but of course I still only have this one avenue’, and ‘I’ve got to go take on this big loan to get the singular degree’. I think that sort of mindset will probably be a full generational. So that’s what the five years is like. Still feels like we’re in some of that transition. But yeah, I’m an eternal optimist. I really do think that we’re moving that direction even though there’s a lot going on outside of just the education sort of employment space that is putting certain pressures. And, you know, there are other sort of power dynamics and incentives at play that are going to be the sort of pull and the push to move, I think, in that direction. Yeah – I’m hopeful.

DMcF – Correct – I think that’s a wonderful and very compelling reason. And you touched on it a little bit earlier. As you’re briefly referencing the non-formal, so hopefully as part of this broader picture … it is informal, non-formal, as well as formal education and true lifelong learning that ultimately enables everyone to rise to their capability, and their interest and passion. 

TK – Where is their value in the world, and giving people wherever that can be identified. I want that to speak to people in a very direct way, and not feel like you have to be pulled or pushed in any singular direction based on, you know, prior existing social structures or corporate interests, whatever it might be. So, yeah, opening up the value channels that we all know exist in all sorts of interesting places. Now that’s the vision.

DMcF – Excellent. Well, so and that’s a perfect segue into my final question for you, which is then around Learning Economy Foundation, and so where then will you be, and the organisations be in five years, and what else do you need to do? Is your role shifting across those five years to help make it able to work with many partners around the world? But to where would you be? Where would the organisation be in five years to help make this happen? 

TK – Yeah, that is part of what I love about the work is that it’s really hard today. But I do feel fairly strong about the existing sort of momentum and projects we have moving and furthering those, you know, finding others that want to be a part of a similar movement. So I would say twofold: It’s being able to look back at the work that we’re doing now,  whether it’s with the Scouts or any higher education institutions, state networks, whatever it looks like, and having, real data and to be able to point to the impact and say this sort of, you know, our theory of change and what we’ve been working towards really does matter, and it’s proving impactful for folks. So, really being able to see and point to that data I think is in scope. And then I’d also say, you know, I think maybe even beyond five years, like our signal of success, we would sort of love to see this open infrastructure just becoming as ubiquitous, and known as, say, the Internet itself, some of these appointing to email a lot. You know, we’ve kind of all take it for granted, but we communicate digitally daily. It’s taken obviously decades to kind of get there. But having some of this infrastructure exists that is as pervasive but also invisible in many ways, and it is just proving useful to people, and Learning Economy is really representing more of a governance body. We’ve always seen ourselves as sort of stewards. What does it look like for a strong network to just steward this infrastructure out into the world and going to keep it on positive tracks, but not have to be, you know, directly in the line of fire, as it were. So that would be a really strong signal for us to say ‘Oh, we’ve actually kind of been less prominent or, you know, even further into the background and stewarding what already exists in the world, and not always being that right at the frontlines of building it. So it’s wonderful. It takes a village. And yeah, it’s like years, obviously it’s been awesome to connect. And you know, I think we share so much in what we’re trying to make happen. 

DMcF – That’s absolutely. Yeah – again back to the skills collaborative project and Open Skills Networks and other ways that our paths cross. So thank you, Taylor, for your time today and thanks to all the foundation, and all the work that collectively you’re doing for humanity. And wonderful to see these fantastic stories and well, we’ll catch up many times before five years from now. But let’s mark a calendar for five years to revisit. Let’s see how many cracks are in that ball. But now I love your work and let’s work together to help us get there. Thanks.

TK  – Thank you, Dan appreciate it. Cheers.

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