How to Apply

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.

Submit an idea here.

The official rules of the competition are available here.

If you have questions, please reach out to


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 one-page concept.

Due Date: September 18, 2020

Participants will submit a one-page description of their tool or technology that includes the award request and a description of you and your team. We encourage interested individuals or platforms to complete an eligibility quiz to guide the development of effective proposals.

Phase 2: Submit a detailed proposal with budget

Due Date: October 26, 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

Week of November 22, 2020

Columbia and the Learning Agency will then select finalists, who will be given the opportunity to pitch their idea to a panel of judges. Among others, the judges include Peter Bergman from Columbia, Katy Knight from the Siegel Family Endowment, Katrina Stevens from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Julia Quinn from Citadel.

Winners announced

Week of December 3, 2020

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

Early 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. 


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. 

Take the Award Quiz for additional guidance.


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