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Building an Adaptive & Competitive Workforce

Frequently Asked Questions


The Tools Competition funds edtech tools and technologies that support learning outcomes and can contribute to learning science research.


Eligible tools have the potential to generate novel learning data that researchers can study to better understand learning at scale. This may include an app, software, algorithm, or other digital technology that facilitates or supports continuous data collection and has the potential to scale at minimal cost.


For the purposes of the Tools Competition, proposals that focus solely on hardware, curricular resources such as lesson plans or video guides, community platforms, or in-person programming are rarely competitive as they struggle to either support learning engineering principles or scale without significant continuous investment.

Please refer to the following Official Rules:

All participants must agree to their track’s rules to join.

Only United States entities, citizens, or permanent residents are eligible to submit a proposal. Other competitors can participate as part of a team, but are not eligible to directly receive any portion of the award. For more information on eligibility, please see the official rules. We welcome proposals from teams or individuals from all backgrounds, including researchers/universities, edtech companies, educators, or students (undergraduate or graduate).

Yes, all submissions must be in English.

Yes! Winners retain full intellectual property. Tools Competition organizers do not seek shares of or equity in the product or company.

Yes! We are eager to hear and support individuals who are new to the field. We encourage you to participate at the Catalyst award level to be more competitive. Please see the track’s page for more information on award levels and additional guidance.

Yes! Anyone 18 years or older is eligible, and we are eager to hear from individuals at all stages of the development process.

Yes! You are not required to participate as part of a team or to be affiliated with an organization or company.

You are welcome to partner with other organizations. This should be mentioned in your Phase I submission.

Yes! We encourage you to still participate. If you advance to the final phase of the track, there will be an opportunity to make note of conflicts.

Developing Successful Proposals

Applicants invited to participate in Phase II of the 2023-24 Tools Competition are eligible to submit full proposals through April 22, 2024. You can read more about how to participate on the track page.

The Tools Competition seeks to spur new tools and technology. This means that something about the proposed tool needs to be fresh, innovative, or original. This does not mean you have to create a new tool or new platform.


Applicants seeking a Growth or Transform award must build off an existing platform of varying levels of development and scale. This might be an API that will improve the platform or a new tool to improve effectiveness. Or it could mean adding infrastructure that allows external researchers to access your data.


See more about award levels and eligibility requirements on the track page.

Yes. All proposals for the Building an Adaptive & Competitive Workforce track must address adult learners at the workforce level.

We request that applicants submit one Phase II proposal. While applicants with multiple abstracts advancing to Phase II of the track are eligible to submit more than one proposal, we recommend that they focus their energy on developing one proposal of highest quality where possible. It is very unlikely that more than one proposal will advance to Phase III of the track.


If you have questions, please reach out to our team at

Proposals need to have the ability to stand alone independently (i.e., one proposal’s success should not be dependent on another proposal’s advancement in the competition). That said, it is highly unlikely that more than one proposal from the same team will ultimately win, and we encourage teams to focus their energy on developing one highest quality proposal rather than multiple proposals.

Yes! Phase II proposals should not be drastically different from Phase I, but we do expect that there may be changes as you further refine your idea.

Active users are defined as individuals who are currently using your tool regularly. Accounts created or pilot users may not be considered active users if they are only testing the functionality of the tool for a specified period of time.

We are looking for user engagement at every stage of development and implementation. This can look like conducting interviews or focus groups to understand user needs, iterating the functionality or features of your tools based on user insights, designing the user interface based on feedback, etc.


Visit our blog to learn more about engaging end users, and view case studies of how previous winners of the Tools Competition—Springboard Collaborative, Podsie, and Humanitus Learning Sciences and Consulting Services—have successfully engaged users in their work.

You may provide a description of both in your proposal, but your focus should be on what the funds from the award would enable you to do. That said, you should provide enough information on the overall product to contextualize the proposed tool, where applicable.

Consider the following recommendations:


  • Ensure your proposal speaks to the track objectives and target audience.
  • Emphasize if your tool meets any competitive priorities for the track.
  • Prioritize your tool’s alignment to learning engineering principles. See more on learning engineering here.
  • Incorporate the need and demand of adult learners, workforce development, and national security into the design and development of the tool.
  • Structure your proposal in key sections and write in clear, comprehensible language. We recommend having a person unfamiliar with your work check your proposal for clarity.


We also recommend thoroughly reviewing the objectives and rubric associated with the Building an Adaptive & Competitive Workforce track page to better understand expectations for a high-quality proposal. View more tips on how to strengthen your Phase II proposal here.

Please include citations throughout your proposal, as relevant. You will be able to upload a full reference list at the end of the submission form which will not count against your word limit. Any citation format is acceptable.

You may include up to three supporting images, but your proposal should be able to stand on its own without these images. You should not include any external links, unless requested—other documents or links provided in your submission will not be reviewed or considered.

The “elevator pitch” video is a brief (30-second) introduction to your team and your tool. We do not recommend you demo your tool in this video.


This video can be recorded informally on a phone or computer. You will be required to upload your video as an .mp4 attachment in your submission.

You are welcome to start building/enhancing your tool or functionality, but there is no promise of funding. Similarly, it is OK for the execution plan and timeline to begin before funding is administered.

View the Learning Engineering Resources section of our website for a detailed introduction to learning engineering, and check out our related blog posts for examples in practice, topic deep dives, and more.


You can also join the Learning Engineering Google Group for news, upcoming events, and funding opportunities.

Award Levels & Budget

The competition is designed to be inclusive and support talent and ideas at all stages of development. As such, applicants can participate at one of three award levels:


  • Catalyst ($50,000): for early stage ideas or products
  • Growth ($150,000): for products with some users and scale
  • Transform ($300,000): for established platforms with 10,000 or more users

Tools at the Catalyst level will look different and be at varying stages of development. The product of your proposal may be an MVP or a prototype, or you may still be in the ideation phase and taking steps towards these goals as a result of your proposal.

If your tool has no current users and has not gone to market, we recommend the Catalyst award level.

No, you are not required to submit at the Transform award level. You are welcome to apply at a lower award level if you believe your use of funds and the idea’s phase of development would be better suited to the Growth level.

Budgets should provide a high-level picture of the major cost drivers for the project. We are looking for budgets to illustrate that the team has a clear sense of how they’ll execute and whether the award will provide the necessary funds to accomplish the goals set out in their proposal.


If the total budget exceeds the award amount, it should be clear how the gaps will be covered. Please note that budgets should be in U.S. Dollars. Budgets need not exceed a single page.

There is no definitive time period for the award. Teams are generally expected to make progress in line with the timeline for execution outlined in their proposals.

Budgets should be realistic and aligned to what is being proposed. If invited to advance to Phase III of this track, judges will consider whether the budget will best allow you to maximize your impact.


Indirect costs should not exceed 10% of the total budget. Other than that, there are no specific requirements on what costs are allowed or not allowed (within reason, of course). Personnel is an allowable cost.

Indirect costs are not directly attributed to a single product, project, or team function, and are instead related to multiple functions across the organization. This includes the general operating expenses of the organization (also referred to as “overhead costs” or “administrative costs”).


In your budget, indirect costs should not exceed 10% of the total budget. Noting that staff costs related to the design or implementation of your tool are considered direct costs and do not count toward this percentage.

No. As projects vary greatly, we do not provide a budget template. We recommend a spreadsheet or table format outlining the key cost drivers for the project. You may also include a brief budget narrative to provide additional context. We do not recommend that budgets exceed a single page, and please note that budgets should be in U.S. Dollars (though they can also include a local currency in addition to USD).

As part of the Phase II submission process, you will upload your budget directly within the online submission form. Please note that your budget will be uploaded as an attachment—there is no text box available to input your budget directly.

Feedback & Evaluation

Please refer to the track objectives and rubric located on the track page to better understand expectations regarding what qualifies as a high-quality proposal.


Proposals are evaluated against others within the same track and award level. At each stage of the process, reviewers will evaluate proposals based on eligibility requirements for the track and award level as well as:


  • Novelty of the tool and technology
  • Potential impact and likelihood to improve learning
  • Attention to equity to support learning of historically marginalized populations
  • Demand from learners, educators, and families
  • Ability to support learning engineering
  • Ability to scale to additional users and/or domains

Please refer to the email you received from track organizers inviting you to Phase II for a list of all supports, including info sessions, webinars, and drop-in group office hours. We will continue to update you via email if new opportunities arise.


We also recommend joining the Learning Engineering Google Group. Opportunities for partnership and additional support are frequently posted within this group.


Please reach out to with any questions or feedback.

Phase II reviewers are content experts, technical experts, and researchers in fields directly related to each track. Phase II proposals will be scored according to the track rubric and assessed for feasibility of the proposal and the tool’s contribution to the field before being nominated as a finalist.

Developing a Learning Engineering Plan

For Phase II of the track, applicants seeking a Growth or Transform award must detail a plan or partnership demonstrating that their tool will support external researchers. This component of your proposal demonstrates how your tool can enable access to data for researchers outside your core team to benefit the field of learning science.


This should include how your tool will support research, the names of the researcher(s) you will engage, how you will work together or support their research, and their level of commitment to this partnership. This does not need to be a formal agreement, but you may attach a letter of evidence to your proposal submission.


You may also describe existing partnerships or provide other evidence that researchers have shown interest in using your tool to support their work.


To learn more about the learning engineering plan requirements, view this blog post.

A research partner may come from any discipline (e.g., learning science, psychology, computer science, business) as long as their research will pertain to “learning” or the relationship between the tool and the learner.


Research partners must be external to the immediate organization that is receiving the funds, but they may work for the same institution in another department.


The goal of the learning engineering plan is to enhance the field’s knowledge of learning, and having an external research partner demonstrates that there is interest and demand for your tool and dataset in the wider research community.

Check out our blog for suggestions on how to connect with external researchers to assist on themes such as:


  • 1. How best to instrument a platform in ways that would serve the field,
  • 2. Determining what data a platform is able to collect and how to best capture it,
  • 3. Using the data and related research to answer questions of interest.


If you need support identifying a researcher, please reach out to

These results alone would not satisfy the learning engineering plan requirements, but you’re welcome to use results of previous research to strengthen your proposal. If you would like to work with an external researcher that you have already worked with in the past, this would be acceptable.


To learn more about the learning engineering plan requirements, view this blog post.

You should describe the data sharing process in your proposal and provide evidence that the tool is designed in a way that allows researchers to access data from your tool. If you do charge a fee for researchers to use your data, it should not be so significant that it hinders access.


You may find this to be a helpful resource.

After the Track

Winners will receive their award by check or bank transfer.

Winners will present their progress to peers and others in the field during a virtual Product Review Day to get feedback and perspective.

Yes! We strive to support all participants, not just winners. At each phase, the organizers will compile lists of opportunities for additional funding, support, mentorship, and partnership.
We also encourage your team, if not selected, to stay in touch with the organizers through and the Learning Engineering Google Group.

Organizers are eager to support winners and learn from their work to inform future resources for participants and winners. To do so, all winners will participate in an impact study during which research advisors will work with you to incorporate new measures into your internal evaluation process. In addition, all winners will complete impact surveys data in the years after winning.

Phase III results for the Building an Adaptive & Competitive Workforce track will be released in late May. Meet the finalists for all other tracks here.