The organization: The Tools Competition is a multi-million dollar global prize challenge that leverages technology, data, and learning science to meet the urgent needs of learners from the pre-K to adult learning levels. The competition aims to spur the development of tools that improve learning and instruction while advancing education research and development as a whole.
The need: Originally launched in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and in response to the crisis of learning loss, the Tools Competition was developed to surface transformative ideas that could accelerate learning outcomes with cutting edge technologies. The Learning Agency partnered with key sponsors in education research and development to develop a global competition model that would deliver outcomes for learners, families, and educators, while serving the field of learning research at scale. The competition runs annually, with each cycle of the competition targeting specific, pressing issues in learning.
Our role: The Learning Agency partners with Georgia State University and sponsors to design and administer all components of the annual competition process. In its first three cycles, the competition awarded nearly $10 million to 80 winners who reached tens of millions of learners worldwide.
The Tools Competition follows a three-phrase process, allowing teams to refine their ideas with time and feedback. At each stage of the process, we provide feedback to teams, organize topical events, share resources, and facilitate partnerships to strengthen proposals.
Key components of the process include:
- Recruiting competitors from around the world. Since 2020, we have received more than 2,700 proposals from over 70 countries. The Learning Agency leverages diverse recruitment tactics starting with an annual launch event that features competition sponsors and keynote speakers, such as Jack Buckley from Roblox, discussing competition priorities. We also participate in conferences around the world where we have the opportunity to host happy hours, deliver remarks, and engage directly with competitors. Paired with social media, email, and other marketing campaigns, we recruit high-quality competitors from our wide audience within the educational technology and learning engineering communities.
- Supporting competitors to develop compelling proposals. Throughout each cycle of the competition, The Learning Agency provides regular support and feedback to competitors on their proposals in order to help competitors build their team, refine their ideas, and connect with the networks to bring them to life. Whether through one-on-one support, publishing resources on our blog, or hosting virtual events (e.g., office hours, Ask-Me-Anything events with previous winners, or webinars), we aim to make the competition a supportive experience for all competitors, not just winners.
- Designing and conducting a three-phase review & evaluation process. The Learning Agency organizes the three-phase competition process, which begins with creating the templates, rubrics, and guides that competitors use to craft their proposals. We recruit expert reviewers with technical and content area expertise and coordinate the scoring and evaluation process. In the final phase of the competition, we host virtual pitch sessions and coordinate judging panels with leaders in philanthropy, research, industry, and the classroom. Throughout the competition and for winners, we provide ongoing opportunities for support, feedback, and connection. That includes social media and email campaigns to celebrate winners’ successes and progress, and a Product Review Day and Demo Day where winning teams discuss updates and achievements.
- Growing the learning engineering community. At the heart of the Tools Competition is learning engineering, a growing field at the intersection of learning science and computer science that stresses rapid experimentation and continuous improvement to advance learning outcomes. Both through the competition and more broadly, we identify and engage people aligned with our learning engineering agenda, and help to support others with incorporating learning engineering principles into their work in order to grow the field. We do this by organizing virtual events, facilitating connections, and spotlighting learning engineering champions. We organize monthly virtual networking sessions where individuals – including Tools competitors and winners – can meet, connect, and chat about their work. We also post regular updates on opportunities in the Learning Engineering Google Group and feature experts in the field through webinars and Ask-Me-Anything events.