Is it time to update your browser again? Do you need a new laptop to make it work? What happened to Web2 – did you miss that one?
Simply put, Web3 is quite literally the third iteration of the World Wide Web. It’s in its earliest days right now but social media has propelled it to early fame, perhaps somewhat prematurely. That being said, it is pretty much inevitable and for good reason but to properly understand what Web3, its benefits and what it could mean in education, we really do need to make sure we understand Web1 and Web2 first…
Web1 – the information economy
(Approx. 1989 – 2005)
The World Wide Web was created by British scientist Tim Berners-Lee in 1989. Its initial purpose was to facilitate automated information-sharing between scientists in universities and institutes around the world. It was quickly co-opted by companies who hired computing experts to harness the web for both internal and external information sharing.
This first iteration of the web was very much “read-only” as computer-literacy was broadly low and internet access was expensive. It was text-heavy and content was pretty static without any real interaction. The focus was on sharing information about companies, brands or organisations. Individual content creation in this period was limited though the tech-savvy did start to build out their own webpages (and what a mess they were) which ultimately led to the birth of MySpace, which itself became a precursor to Facebook and the dawn of Web2….
Web2 – the platform economy
(Approx. 2005 – present)
Web2 was the major evolution to the way that the world Wide Web was operated and how the internet as a whole was perceived by the world. As cost-of-access dropped, adoption rose and the Web became more than just a place to find information – it became about interacting and connecting with other people. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and more were born, ushering in a new era of individuals both sharing and creating content.
It’s also worth noting that this era saw a shift in where we stored information. Even before the term “The Cloud” became prevalent, people were essentially using it – whether that was uploading photos to Facebook or videos to YouTube. We were letting platforms store our information and data in exchange for the services they offered. This was not without its problems…. As we would come to realise years later when data privacy became more of a concern. We liked the connectivity and community of Web2 but we weren’t so keen on Big Tech holding all our stuff and controlling everything from the rules of access to the profit margins for content creation. This feeling has been bubbling for some time now, with more and more people calling for a change in the way that the Web is used.
Web3 – the ownership economy
(Approx. 2021 – ???)
Web3 represents the second major evolution of the World Wide Web, and it is just getting into gear right now. The focus of Web3 is clear: Decentralisation. Taking the power (and data) back from the tech giants that dominated Web2 and making it clear to them that they need to adapt to survive and accept that they may not get to make all the rules anymore.
This revolution will not be televised – it will transparent. Web3 leverages blockchain technology (the use of a decentralised network of computers (aka nodes) to ensure that no one person or entity can dominate the landscape and have control.) Web3 incorporates concepts like NFTs as provably unique digital assets, token-gated access to content and a connected Metaverse where people don’t just use a space, they OWN it. Underpinning this concept is also greater security since users are no longer reliant on the platforms of the past to store their content. Instead we will see peer-to-peer communities constructed upon a network of users.
Web3 is in its earliest days but has already begun to disrupt everything from the art world to the financial sector. Artists and other content creators are finding new ways to interact and engage with their audiences whilst banks are scrambling to understand the connotations of Web3 and DeFi (Decentralised Finance) for fear of facing obsoletion. As the shift away from Web2 takes hold, the education sector will need to adapt.
This will mean adjustments to everything from curriculum (to ensure students are future-ready) to administration (to ensure that schools are too!) It’s a shift that represents much more than schools accepting crypto payments for school fees – something that some schools in Dubai have already begun to implement in 2022 – or looking at ways to harness VR to “Enter the Metaverse.” As the very nature of the Web evolves, the way that we engage with all digital content will change dramatically. Data will move on-chain – everything from grades to reports to medical histories. Achievements will be transparent and instantly verifiable but schools will be able to shape their infrastructure in new ways too. For example a school could implement its own token and use it as a the base of a fully-fledged internal economy system that students, teachers and even parents engaged with. In theory a school could offset budgets this way, reducing the need for grants or government support (in the form of taxes in many countries.) Similarly we could see the PLN (Personal Learning Network) evolve into the form of a DAO (Decentralised Autonomous Organisation) where international groups of teachers steer the education landscape into new waters. This is something that K20 Educators are already starting to do with the creation of their ED3 DAO project which aims to upskill educators in the use of Web3 technologies.
Learning institutions that were quick to embrace the initial form of the world Wide Web were able to redefine learning. Similarly, schools that did not shy away from Web2 tools were able to transform the way that they engaged with their students and broader school communities. The same will happen again with Web3. Some will ignore it until it is too late or too difficult to adapt. Others will recognise the change on the horizon and ensure that they are ready to capitalise on the evolution. How will your school, college or university make sure that it is Web3-ready?