Even if you’ve never heard of it, blockchain technology is poised to change the world. In the next decade, William “Bill” Wagner, PhD, expects blockchain technology—already a $100 billion-a-year industry—will underlie nearly every line of business and become a critical aspect of finance and government services.

“There is a huge gap in the knowledge of what blockchain is and can do. It is very critical for students to become ‘blockchain literate’,” says Dr. Wagner, associate chair of Accounting and Information Systems in the Villanova School of Business.

An expert on this relatively new technology, Dr. Wagner has co-authored an introductory textbook on blockchain and worked to incorporate it into the VSB curriculum—including a new MBA elective. Education in blockchain has expanded to academic courses in the College of Engineering and the undergraduate Business program.

So what is blockchain? “Think of it as a credit card—minus the credit card company,” Dr. Wagner says. The technology can be used to validate transactions just as a credit card company does, but with much lower fees.

It stores information in a distributed ledger of transactions, one that all the blockchain participants can see without revealing their own identities. With bitcoin, a popular kind of blockchain-based currency, the user can transfer funds to another person or company almost instantly, without the aid of an intermediary such as a bank to validate the transaction. The participants in the blockchain network function like a bank to make sure that the transaction is valid. Then all the transactions are encrypted and stored on the blockchain so that it is impossible to tamper with them.

A global race is underway, with countries and companies competing to be the first to adopt blockchain and to set the encryption standards to secure the information. “This technology is changing rapidly, in ways that we may not be able to anticipate yet, potentially disrupting whole industries. As a result, entrepreneurs and new companies are springing up to use blockchain in the hopes of making the world faster, cheaper and more efficient,” Dr. Wagner says.

It is very critical for students to become ‘blockchain literate.’”

Bill Wagner, PhD