2022 DARPA AI Tools for Adult Learning
Frequently Asked Questions


Tools and technologies that would be eligible for the competition could include an app or platform, software, algorithm, or other similar technology.

We are interested in tools and technologies that enhance learning, collect and generate data that supports learning science research and continuous product improvement, and can be scaled. This is core to the learning engineering objectives of the competition.

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.

The DARPA AI Tools for Adult Learning opportunity is open to United States citizens, permanent residents, or U.S. The team leader or entrant must be a permanent resident or citizen of the United States, or a U.S. entity, in order to be eligible to receive a cash award.

Non-U.S. citizens can participate as part of a team but are not eligible to directly receive any portion of the award.

Please refer to the Official Rules for full eligibility requirements.

Yes! You are not required to participate as part of a team or to be affiliated with an organization or company. Please refer to the Official Rules for full eligibility requirements.

You are welcome to partner with other organizations. This should be mentioned in your proposal and reflected in the budget.

Yes! We are eager to hear and support individuals who are new to the field. We encourage you to participate in the Catalyst award level to be more competitive. Please see more information below on award levels and take the eligibility quiz for more guidance.

Yes! The DARPA AI Tools for Adult Learning program manager is eager to hear from people at all stages of the development process.

Yes! Minors are welcome to participate if authorized by a parent or guardian.

Yes, proposals must be in English.

Yes! We encourage you to submit a proposal and make a note of your conflict.

Yes! Participants retain full intellectual property. DARPA does not seek shares of or equity in the product or company.

Developing successful proposals

Submissions for DARPA's AI Tools for Adult Learning are open through December 18, 2022. You can read more about our submission process and how to participate here.

DARPA's AI Tools for Adult Learning seeks to spur new tools and technology. This means that something about the proposal needs to be fresh, innovative, or original. This does not mean you have to create a new tool or new platform.

Proposals seeking a Growth Phase or Transform Phase award must build off an existing platform of varying levels of development and scale. This might be an application programming interface 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 here.

The opportunity is open to solutions that address the critical challenges facing adult learners from higher education to professional levels and beyond.

Active users are defined as individuals who use the tool regularly and in a meaningful way. We recommend that your users fall within the age range and target audience that your tool focuses on. Beta users, if they are just testing the functionality of the tool for a specified period of time, do not count as active users.
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 feedback, designing the user interface based on feedback, etc. Visit our blog to learn more about how previous winners of the Tools Competition - Springboard Collaborative, Podsie, and Humanitus Learning Sciences and Consulting Services successfully engage users.
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.
You may provide a description of both, but your focus should be on what the funds from the award would enable you to do.

Consider the following:

  • Potential impact and likelihood to improve learning
  • Attention to equity to support learning of historically marginalized populations
  • Demand from adults, employers, and communities
  • Ability to support rapid experimentation and continuous improvement
  • Ability to scale to additional users and/or domains
  • Team passion and readiness to execute
Please include references as needed. Any citation format is acceptable. References will count against character and word count, so we recommend using links or abbreviated references, where possible in the PDF version of your proposal.
You may include images, but the proposal should be able to stand alone in written form. You should not include any external links, unless requested. Reviewers will not click on or consider any external links. Please note that you will only be able to include images in the PDF version of your proposal and not via the submission form. This is the version that reviewers will consider.
The optional video is a brief (30 second) introduction of yourself and your team and your idea, similar to an elevator pitch. This will help us get to know you beyond your proposal. Your video does not need to include a demo (nor will you likely have the time!). Reviewers will not consider videos longer than 30 seconds. You should include a link to the video in the submission form question.
Phase II reviewers are context experts, technical experts, and researchers in fields directly related to track and proposal topics. Phase II proposals will be scored according to the track rubric and will receive an expert review related to the feasibility of the proposal and the tool’s contribution to the field before being nominated as a finalist.
You can start building the tool or functionality, but there is no promise of funding. Similarly, it is OK for the execution plan to begin before funding is administered.

Award Levels & Budget

The opportunity will award three award levels:

  • Catalyst ($50,000): aimed at new participants, including students, teachers, civic technologists, or those who need that initial spark of support to get started.
  • Growth ($100,000): for teams that have a minimum viable product with some users upon which their new idea will build.
  • Transform ($250,000): for teams with an established platform with more than 10,000 users upon which the new idea will build.

Complete the eligibility quiz to determine which award level best fits your proposal.

Tools in the catalyst phase 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 is not on the market, we recommend the Catalyst award level.

No, you are not required to participate in the Transform award level. You are welcome to submit for a lower award level if you believe that the idea is in an earlier stage of development.

Proposals will be evaluated based on whether they are clear, concise, actionable, and attainable, with budgets that are aligned and realistic with what’s being proposed. Our reviewers will evaluate how you will 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).

There is no definitive time period for the award. The grant can cover expenses before winners are announced. It is recommended that awarded proposals demonstrate significant progress by Product Review Day in Fall 2023 to receive the second installment of funds. This progress will be measured against the timeline for execution outlined in the proposal.

The funding will be paid in two installments. 50% will be paid after winners are announced. The remaining 50% may be paid after Product Review Day, where organizers will assess if the winner has made sufficient progress based on their plan for execution.

Each entrant is responsible and liable for all Federal, state, and local taxes arising from any grant that may be awarded.

We review the budget to evaluate if the team has a clear sense of how they’ll execute and if the award will provide the necessary funds to accomplish the proposal. Budgets should include the total amount for significant categories related to the project. High level budgets are acceptable, however, details help reviewers understand and build confidence in your execution strategy.
We request that the total budget reflect the award amount. If the budget and the award amount are different, you should clearly show what the award funding will go to, detail where the additional funding will come from (and if it is already secured), and include any additional context on how the award amount fits into the greater budget.
This is not advisable – we recommend your budget add up to the award amount.
No. Since the projects are so different, we do not provide a budget template. However, spreadsheets or tables are preferable.
As part of the Phase II submission, you will upload a single PDF that includes the full proposal and budget. Please note that this PDF is the only place you will include your budget - there is no separate text box on the webform to include your budget.

Research Partnerships

Growth or Transform participants are required to either (1) identify an external researcher that has agreed to partner on the project, or (2) provide evidence from multiple external researchers that the tool could enable research.

To fulfill the research partnership requirement, the researcher(s) must be external to your team. Having an external research partner demonstrates that there is interest and demand for your tool and data set in the wider research community.

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

If you need help identifying a researcher, please reach out to DARPATools@the-learning-agency.com. We have a large and growing network of researchers who can assist platforms with:

  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 best to collect it,
  3. Using the data and related research to answer questions of interest.

We can facilitate connections to researchers through individual requests or broader networking listservs and events.

You can also read our blog for other suggestions on how to connect with external researchers.

You’re welcome to use results of previous research to strengthen your proposal, but these results alone would not satisfy the research partnership requirements because DARPA AI Tools for Adult Learning seeks to encourage scalable and iterative research practices that advance learning engineering and improve knowledge of learning. 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 research partnership requirements, read our blog post.

You can include costs for external researchers, but ideally, your tool allows multiple researchers to leverage the data. Given that, your budget should cover establishing the infrastructure to allow external researchers to access your data. We anticipate interested researchers will be able to fundraise to conduct research using your data.

Participants seeking a Growth Phase or Transform Phase award must have a commitment from one or more external researchers that they are interested in using the data from their platform by the time they submit their detailed proposal for Phase 2, which is due February 24, 2023.

This does not need to be a formal agreement, and the researcher does not need to have already secured funding. Instead, we want to see that you have started forming partnerships with external researchers to share your data and consider how that will require you to adapt your tool.

Most importantly, the tool must be designed so that multiple researchers can access data from the platform over time. Given this, we assume that if the researcher you are working with falls through for a reason, you will be able to establish another partnership quickly.

The goal of the research partnership is to enhance the field’s knowledge of learning. Your 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.
You should describe the data sharing process in your proposal and provide evidence that the tool can enable research for multiple external researchers. If you do charge a fee for researchers to use your data, it should not be so significant that it hinders access.
You do not need to submit any specific documentation or formal commitments. In your proposal you should describe the partnership, name the researcher(s) you will partner with and the nature of the partnership, and include researchers on your team (if applicable). Learn more about how you can address the research partnership in your proposal here.

What happens next?

Winners will receive their awards 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 2 proposal.

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

Approximately one year after winners are notified, winners will convene again to present their progress in a Demo Day.

Yes! We strive to support all participants, not just winners. At each phase, the organizers will compile lists of opportunities for additional funding, support, and partnership.

We also encourage your team, if not selected, to stay in touch with the organizers through DARPATools@the-learning-agency.com 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 two surveys each year for 3-5 years after winning. That will include completing two surveys annually.