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2023-24 Tools Competition

Frequently Asked Questions

Eligibility

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 this 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 Official Rules. All participants must agree to these rules to compete.

The Tools Competition is open to participants from across the globe, however, eligibility criteria are dependent on track.

 

All participants must be able to accept funds from US based entities.

 

Individuals and entities residing in Belarus, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, and the Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions of Ukraine are not eligible to participate in the Competition.

Yes, all submissions must be in English.

Yes! Winners retain full intellectual property. 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 compete in the Catalyst award level to be more competitive. Please see more information on award levels for more 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 compete 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 compete. If you advance to the final phase of the competition, there will be an opportunity to make note of conflicts.

Developing Successful Proposals

Competitors invited to participate in Phase II of the 2023-24 Tools Competition are eligible to submit full proposals through February 2nd, 2024. You can read more about how to compete on each 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.

 

Competitors 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 specific pages.

While the competition is generally open to solutions for Pre-K to adult learners, the target user groups for each track may differ. Please see the track specific pages for more information.

The competition has five “tracks” or priority areas that reflect pressing needs and opportunities in education. Competitors are required to select one track in which their submission will be primarily evaluated.

 

The competition tracks include:

 

 

Each track has somewhat different requirements and eligibility criteria, and certain tracks may be more or less competitive than others depending on final funding allocation and the number of competitors in each track. Tracks may also have different total award pools, depending on sponsor priorities.

We request that competitors submit one Phase II proposal. While competitors with multiple abstracts advancing to Phase II of the competition 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 competition.

 

If you have questions, please reach out to our team at ToolsCompetition@the-learning-agency.com.

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 your selected track.
  • Prioritize your tool’s alignment to learning engineering principles. See more on learning engineering here.
  • Incorporate the need and demand of learners, families, and educators into the design and development of the tool. See more on this here.
  • 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 your track to better understand expectations for a high quality proposal (found on individual track pages). 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, competitors can compete 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 compete at the Transform award level. You are welcome to compete 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.

Eligibility for the Implementation Impact Prize differs by track and award level. Please refer to the track-specific pages for more information. We expect to award 1-3 total Implementation Impact Prizes to competition winners in each eligible track.

 

Competitors that indicate interest in being considered for an Implementation Impact Prize are required to complete an additional proposal section as part of their Phase II submission.

Eligible tools must be built on OpenAI’s platform. Please refer to the track-specific pages for more information. We expect to award 1-3 total impact Open AI Learning Impact Prizes to competition winners.

Competitors that indicate interest in being considered for an OpenAI Learning Impact Prize are required to complete an additional proposal section as part of their Phase II submission. 

For budget purposes, your proposal should be able to stand on its own without funds from the OpenAI Learning Impact Prize. You are welcome to separately include a breakdown of how the supplemental award would be spent in your budget file, but this is not required.

For budget purposes, your proposal should be able to stand on its own without funds from the Implementation Impact Prize. You are welcome to separately include a breakdown of how the supplemental award would be spent in your budget file, but this is not required.

Eligible tools must be built on OpenAI’s platform. Please refer to the track-specific pages for more information. We expect to award 1-3 total impact Open AI Learning Impact Prizes to competition winners.

 

Competitors that indicate interest in being considered for an OpenAI Learning Impact Prize are required to complete an additional proposal section as part of their Phase II submission. 

 

For budget purposes, your proposal should be able to stand on its own without funds from the OpenAI Learning Impact Prize. You are welcome to separately include a breakdown of how the supplemental award would be spent in your budget file, but this is not required.

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 (though they can also include a different local currency in addition to USD). Budgets need not exceed a single page.

There is no definitive time period for the award. It is required that awarded proposals demonstrate progress by Product Review Day in Fall 2024 in order to receive the second installment of funds. This progress will be measured against the timeline for execution outlined in your proposal.

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

 

Indirect costs should not exceed 10 percent 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 percent 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 track objectives and rubrics located on individual track pages 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 competition, 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 this blog post for all supports and resources available during Phase II including info sessions, webinars, and drop-in group office hours. We will continue to update this post regularly.

 

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 ToolsCompetition@the-learning-agency.com 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 competition, competitors seeking a Growth or Transform award in all tracks excluding the Facilitating Learning Science Research track 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 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 Toolscompetition@the-learning-agency.com.

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 Competition

Winners will receive their award by check or bank transfer in two installments.

 

Winners will receive the first installment soon after winning. Winners will receive the second installment of the award after Product Review Day if they are making sufficient progress on the plan they outlined in their Phase II proposal.

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 competitors—not only winners. We compile and share lists of opportunities for additional funding, support, mentorship, and partnership throughout the competition cycle.

 

We also encourage your team, if not selected, to stay connected with the learning engineering community through the Learning Engineering Google Group and with competition organizers by reaching to ToolsCompetition@the-learning-agency.com.

Competition organizers are eager to support winners and learn from their work to inform future resources for competitors 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.

Meet the finalists for the Building an Adaptive & Competitive Workforce track here. Meet the finalists for all other tracks here.