Tools Competition 2020

We are thrilled to announce the winners of the Tools Competition! Out of an incredibly strong pool of 40 finalists, 18 winners were selected by our panel of judges. The winning ideas hail from across the globe and span diverse approaches to accelerating the recovery from pandemic learning loss. Learn more about the winners here.

Futures Forum on Learning: Tools Competition

The Futures Forum on Learning: Tools Competition (“Tools Competition”) invites teachers, students, researchers, technologists, and ed tech leaders to propose a tool, technology, platform, or research project that can accelerate recovery from COVID-19-related learning loss for students between grades K-12, and advance the field of learning engineering.

Schmidt Futures and Citadel Founder and CEO Ken Griffin are working together to help launch the competition with up to $2 million in awards.


The Need

COVID-19 has sparked a global education crisis, and highlighted the need for continued innovation in how online and blended education can support effective learning.

The Opportunity

Rather than silver bullet solutions, the goal of the Tools Competition is to spur the development and deployment of technologies that can accelerate the recovery from pandemic learning loss and advance the field of learning engineering.

Learning engineering is an emerging discipline at the intersection of learning science and computer science that seeks to design learning systems with the instrumentation, data, and partnerships with the research community, to drive tight feedback loops and continuous improvements in how that learning is delivered in online and blended settings.

The potential solutions in the competition will be evaluated across four core criteria:

  1. their use of learning engineering,
  2. potential for effectiveness,
  3. scalability, and
  4. equity.
The Competition

We invite potential solutions from students, teachers, tech leaders, digital learning platforms and researchers from around the globe to participate. The Tools Competition is designed in multiple phases allowing time for ideation, team-building, and project refinement.

To encourage new entrants and established platforms, participants can request an award in one of three tracks ($25,000 and under; $25,000 – $100,000; $100,000 – $250,000) based on the applicant’s existing user base and technical infrastructure. The organizers will award up to $2 million in grants. See more about tracks and award size here.

In addition to the prize funds, winners will have the opportunity to connect with prominent education researchers, edtech leaders, and representatives of large philanthropic organizations to scale their work. They will also have access to a panel of educators to test solutions.

Solutions should aim to address one of the problem areas:

  • Increase the number of students who are reading by 3rd grade
  • Increase the number of students on track in middle-school math
  • Expand the number of students gaining data and computer science skills in high school
  • Driving more students into college through academic and nonacademic supports
  • Another pressing learning goal identified by the team that is related to COVID-19.


The Tools Competition will have a phased evaluation process in order to give participants the time and feedback to strengthen their potential solution and build an effective team.

Phase 1: Submit a concept

We are honored to have received many concept ideas from diverse stakeholders, including teachers, students, researchers, and innovators in industry. We sent notifications to all participants on October 4. If you have questions about your submission or did not receive a notification, please contact

Phase 2: Submit a detailed proposal with budget

Due Nov. 1, 2020: Columbia and the Learning Agency will review concepts and invite competitive proposals to submit a detailed description. Participants will revise and expand on their proposals, including adding a budget and a plan for execution. The detailed proposal should be up to 3,000 words and include a budget and proof of concept.

Phase 3: Pitch with a panel of judges.

Mid-January 2021: The organizers will then select finalists, who will be given the opportunity to pitch their idea to a panel of judges.

Winners announced

February 2021: Winners will then be announced and receive the first installment of their award. Winners will be provided coaching, the opportunity to connect with leaders in the field, and the ability to present their idea to a panel of educators for further refinement.

Product Review Day

Spring 2021: Winners will present on their progress to date, and open challenges, to the other winners and engage with leaders in the field. Winners making sufficient progress by Product Review Day will receive the second installment of their prize.

How to Apply

For Phase I, participants should submit a concept that addresses the following points in a one-page document.

  • Summary: Describe the concept in less than 100 words.
  • Background: Describe the team in less than 100 words.
  • Goals: How will the proposal accelerate the rate of improvement of student outcomes? Please aim to address one the following problem areas.
    • Increase the number of students who are reading by 3rd grade
    • Increase the number of students on track in middle-school math
    • Expand the number of students gaining data and computer science skills in high school
    • Driving more students into college through academic and nonacademic supports.

    You are also welcome to identify another learning goal. If you select your own, please describe why it is important and how it is related to COVID-19.

  • Key factors: In the concept note, please address each the following four factors:
    • Learning Engineering : How is your project architected for rapid experimentation and data-driven continuous improvement? Could researchers use the data to better understand how students learn? Consider this as a potential example.
    • Effectiveness: : What is your evidence – or theory of impact – to explain why you think your idea will improve learning outcomes?
    • Equity : How does your proposal address the needs of marginalized student populations?
    • Scalability : How does your project scale?
  • Amount of Requested Award: Please see the guidance to determine the level of the award that is best suited for your proposal.

Examples of Competitive Solutions

The following examples would be competitive for the Tools Competition because they address a pressing learning goal, have an eye toward continuous improvement, prioritize equity and have the potential to scale.

Writing Dashboard. A team could propose the development of a learning analytics dashboard that allows teachers to track student writing in real time. Via a Google docs plugin, the dashboard would answer questions like: Have students logged in? Are they showing boredom? Have they begun an assignment? Such a project, if effective, could be a win both for teachers trying to work in online and blended settings, and for researchers trying to test and improve strategies to drive more student writing.

Kaggle for Kids. In a world of cancelled assessments, students are struggling to show what they know. A team could propose creating a data science platform that gives students more opportunities to solve real-world problems, develop data science and math skills, and show that they know. Such a platform could serve both the immediate assessment needs, but also serve as a testbed for improvements in challenge-based learning.

Parental Texting Lab. An existing large-scale platform might propose to develop an updatable dataset of texts from parents, both pre-COVID and after. The data would then be made available to the research community to both better understand the needs of parents during COVID-19, and seed an infrastructure for testing what real-world steps drive parental engagement.


Solutions will be reviewed at three funding tiers: catalyst, mid-range, and large awards. Solutions requesting larger awards are expected to have more existing technology and active users. Final award amounts will be at the discretion of the judges and competition organizers.

The awards will be distributed in two installments: first, when the winners are announced, and the second, after the Product Review Day and the showing of satisfactory progress.

Applicants should determine their funding tier based on the following criterion:

  • Catalyst Prizes: Up to $25,000
    These prizes are aimed at new entrants, including students, teachers, civic technologists, or those who need that initial spark of support to get started. To be competitive for a small prize, participants must have:

    • A detailed description of the proposed tool or technology.
    • A plan for execution that addresses scale, equity, effectiveness, and learning engineering.
  • Mid-Range Prizes: $25,000 – $100,000 
    These prizes will be aimed at smaller platforms or new entrants with a strong pre-identified team and clear plan for execution. To be competitive for a mid-range prize, participants must have:

    • Everything for a catalyst prize, including a plan for learning engineering.
    • An existing technology or tool that has a demonstrated infrastructure and robust group of active users.
  • Large Prize: $100,000 – $250,000  
    These prizes are aimed at large-scale, existing platforms who have an idea that could impact a large number of their users. To be competitive for a large prize, participants must have:

    • Everything for a mid-range prize, including a plan for learning engineering.
    • Existing platform or tool with at least 25,000 active users.
    • A solution that could positively impact a large population, or multiple regions around the world.
    • Proof of success producing a tool, technology, or dataset of a similar scale in education or another field.

For those interested, we recommend you bookmark this page for additional details.