How to get a crash course in crypto without enrolling in a degree program

BY Sam BeckerSeptember 15, 2021, 2:00 AM
A “Reserved Parking for Cryptocurrency Enthusiasts” sign outside a Bitcoin Solutions Cryptocurrency Center in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, in August 2021.
Artur Widak—NurPhoto/Getty Images

It’s a wild new world. These days, simply navigating the economy and business world requires a new skill set and knowledge base that differ radically from those of 10 or 20 years ago. Case in point: cryptocurrencies and blockchains. What were, at one time, fringe concepts and technologies are now mainstream. And students, professionals, and investors all need to have at least a basic understanding of blockchain technology and crypto to get by—or to at least feign understanding at cocktail hour. 

If you’re like millions of Americans, you may have no idea what terms like “blockchain” and “Ethereum” mean—and feel lost when conversations at work or happy hour turn to the intricacies of cryptos. You’re not alone; one-third of crypto investors know nothing about these assets, according to a recent survey from Cardify. Another survey from Gemini finds that 77% of Americans are eager to learn more about digital assets.

For the crypto curious, the question is this: How do you get a crypto crash course or build upon what you already know? There are plenty of resources out there if you know where to look, and what to look for in these offerings.

Take a crypto crash course

If you Google “crypto 101,” you’ll get a lot of results—and among them will be Cryptocurrency and Blockchain: An Introduction to Digital Currencies. This is an open, online, on-demand course from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania through Coursera, so prospective students can enroll at any time, for free.

“The course is designed for people who are new to blockchain, and it’s a very high-level introduction,” says Sarah Hammer, the managing director of the Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance at the Wharton School, and one of the course’s instructors. “It’s foundational—you can dive right in and do the course.”

But, as Hammer mentions, the course is “high-level,” so even those people with a bit of background in blockchain and crypto may find many modules fairly advanced. This course, along with other blockchain-related courses and classes at Wharton, are becoming more popular as a result of higher interest from both students and non-students alike, she adds. 

If the Wharton course seems like a jump into the deep end for some people, there are options for a shallower entry. 

There are tons of learning resources on platforms like YouTube or Twitter that can help get the ball rolling, says Benjamin Cole, former director of the MBA program at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business and a recently elected fellow at the British Blockchain Association. But a lot of these resources are stealth sales operations or often engage in some sort of market manipulation by hyping up certain assets to get would-be investors interested.

As a result, Cole says the best place to start might be to simply use the educational resources provided by some crypto exchanges—such as Coinbase or Kraken

“For a newbie who doesn’t know anything, just stick to the U.S. exchanges—they’ve got lots of materials available for you to learn from,” Cole says. “There was no book when I started learning about blockchain,” he says, adding that he had to do a lot of reading and parsing of information to find reliable, definitive sources. 

As blockchains have become a widely adopted technology, and the crypto markets are trading at full bore, those investors new to this asset class will have a much easier time learning the ropes. And, as Cole mentions, an exchange’s educational components may be more accessible to newbies.

Turn to an exchange

Just a few years ago, blockchain and crypto education opportunities were hard to come by, says Jeremy Welch, the chief product officer at Kraken, echoing Cole’s sentiment. Kraken—a crypto-trading platform that boasts roughly 8 million users—sees educating its customers as part of its corporate responsibility.

“In the earliest days [of crypto], no one knew anything,” Welch says. “But now, it’s our job to shepherd customers. Learning and engagement is a core part of what we do.”

Kraken has a “learn” component on its platform, which features a catalog of articles, videos, and podcasts, all of which are geared toward helping both new and seasoned crypto investors further their understanding of the industry and markets. “Education is front and center,” Welch says. “We know a lot of new people are coming in, and we want to make it easy for them to learn.”

Kraken and other exchanges are dedicating resources toward educating users and the general public for a simple reason: demand. It may seem like the crypto markets consist mainly of Bitcoin whale–watching on Twitter and teenagers trying to recoup their Dogecoin losses. But it’s becoming increasingly important for people in various industries to have a working knowledge of both blockchain and crypto.

“Understanding the technology, and understanding how the technology is affecting your industry, particularly in financial services, is really useful,” says Hammer, who is also a lawyer and adjunct professor at Penn’s Carey Law School. “The way that blockchain is shaping the law in real time is exciting—it’s really interesting.”

Law and finance are potentially just the beginning, too, because the potential uses for blockchain and crypto are far-reaching and diverse. That’s why crypto is “definitely something that people will want to stay on top of,” Hammer adds.

Don’t get ‘eaten alive’

Cole says there’s another avenue prospective students can go down to get a crypto crash course: hire a professional to tutor them directly. This, of course, isn’t cheap, but it’s an option for those with the means or a very specific interest. 

“People can reach out to professors for private tutoring or private educational sessions,” Cole says, adding that there are many faculty members who provide consulting or advisory services for educational information. “I had someone at a very well-known firm reach out to me and say, ‘I’ve got these new responsibilities, can you put together a three-hour session to help get me up to speed in the space?’”

For professionals, a private tutoring session—tailored to cover information related to their specific industry and needs—is another avenue to explore.

As for everyone else, taking advantage of the new slate of open courses and free, accessible educational materials can go a long way to helping them invest, or get a better lay of the blockchain and crypto landscape as it relates to their work. But also be aware that these are topics with a steep learning curve, and it may not be easy for everyone to grasp the concepts quickly or easily.

Cole says that doing some homework to build your knowledge is important because it can be very difficult to get up to speed if you jump right in—and particularly so for investors.

“There are professionals who do this for a living. It’s not the type of thing where you’re going to be able to do a little experiment and see how it goes, because you’ll get eaten alive.”

See how the schools you’re considering fared in Fortune’s rankings of the best executive, full-time, and online MBA programs.