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2023-24 Tools Competition

Engaging Adult Learners in Higher Education

Finalists for this track have been announced. Learn more here.

Phase III results were released on April 4, 2024. For Phase II competitors, please contact our team at if you would like to receive feedback on your Phase II proposal. 

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Learn About the Track

Track Description

Tools that increase the effectiveness and reach of higher education, particularly in support of adult learners. Competitors in this track should propose solutions that increase equitable education, supporting learners in engaging in and successfully completing learning experiences, and/or navigating career pathways.

This track is particularly interested in proposals targeting adult learners* from high-need demographics who have been historically and systemically underserved by current education and workforce systems. We are especially interested in innovative ideas that leverage technology to improve equity and access in higher education. Our emphasis is on tools that complement instruction, support learning and career outcomes and allow adult learners to develop new skills and transition into new careers. This may include, but is not limited to, tools that:

Adult learners face unique circumstances. They may be parents, working full-time, or resuming studies later in life. There are more than 40 million adults in the United States that have attended college, but have not completed a degree. In California alone, 6.8 million adults aged 25-54 have a high school diploma but no higher education. This is paired with continued demographic trends that show adult learners will become an increasingly larger cohort of college students in the years ahead. For these learners—who have historically struggled with low completion rates at colleges and universities—committing to and completing higher education requires a learning experience that provides flexibility and direct pathways to careers. As the share of adult learners in higher education grows, particularly among historically underrepresented populations, there is greater urgency for tools that make higher education more accessible, inclusive, and responsive to their unique needs.

Competitive tools should facilitate continuous data collection on learner persistence, engagement, and progress, and support research insights on factors driving completion of learning experiences and career outcomes. Solutions may help to understand the type of design that can accelerate learner progress, how to increase completion rates and decrease the time to completion, the barriers to learner persistence, or how to identify effective career pathways.

Target User/Audience

Adult learners* in higher education, particularly from underserved and underrepresented communities. While proposals focused on higher education broadly may also be competitive in this track, a subset of awards will be reserved for tools targeting the specific populations defined as competitive priorities below.

*Adult learners may include, for example, working adults, those who delayed enrolment in higher education after high school, single parents, or those in other circumstances.

Who should submit?

Competitors worldwide are invited to submit, but tools must serve or intend to serve learners and institutions in the United States. We welcome proposals from teams or individuals from all backgrounds, including edtech companies, researchers/universities, educators, or students (undergraduate or graduate).

Competitive Priorities

A subset of awards will be reserved for:


While the Tools Competition has different tracks and competitive priorities from year to year, the winning tools below are examples of what would be considered compelling for the Higher Education Track in this year’s competition.


Tools Competition judges play a critical role in selecting Tools Competition Winners and bring expertise spanning philanthropy, research, industry, and education. Judges will hear virtual pitches from finalists in Phase III of the competition.

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Marisa Bold

VP of Sustainable Growth & District Development
Calbright College
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Ben Castleman

Associate Professor, Economics of Education
University of Virginia
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David Croom

Vice President and Program Officer, Jobs & Skills, Global Philanthropy
JP Morgan Chase & Co.
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Claire Fisher

Senior Director of AI Strategies
Foundation for California Community Colleges
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Gabriella Gomez

Executive Vice President, Policy, Advocacy & Communications
Strada Education Foundation
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Cecilia Marshall

Director, External Partnerships
Partnership for Education Advancement
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Nicholas Pelzer

Senior Director, Portfolio
Blue Meridian Partners
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Emma Pengelly

VP, Philanthropy
Ingeborg Initiatives
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Rahim Rajan

Board Member
AQL Labs
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Jennie Sanders

Vice President, Faculty Experience & Academic Services
Western Governors University
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Philipp Schmidt

VP Technology Innovation
Axim Collaborative
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Sarah Schwettmann

Research Scientist
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Alex Swartsel

Managing Director, Insights
JFF Labs
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Piyush Tantia

Chief Innovation Officer
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Matt Zieger

Senior Program Officer
GitLab Foundation

Compete in this Track

1. Select your award level

When submitting a proposal, competitors must select the relevant award level based on the size and scale of their tool. Proposals at all award levels should detail how the proposed tool will solve a defined problem, rather than focus on past achievements.

Catalyst Level Awards: $50,000

These awards are designed for early-stage competitors.

Growth Level Awards: $150,000

These awards are designed for competitors with a tool with some users and scale.

Transform Level Awards : $300,000

These awards are designed for advanced competitors with an established tool.

2. Apply for the OpenAI Learning Impact Prize

Determine whether you are eligible to apply for the OpenAI Learning Impact Prize (optional).

Implementation Impact Award:

Supplemental funding of $100,000 is available to select winners at the Growth or Transform level that propose a partnership to conduct research with, co-design, user-test, pilot, or validate their product in partnership with Calbright College, sponsor of the Tools Competition.

In Phase I, competitors will indicate if they intend to compete for the Implementation Impact Prize. In Phase II, competitors will detail their partnership plan. To be eligible, tools must support learners in a fully online learning environment and competitors must serve or intend to serve learners in the State of California.

OpenAI Learning Impact Prize:

In partnership with OpenAI, the Tools Competition is thrilled to offer the OpenAI Learning Impact Prize to catalyze the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on learning outcomes and drive edtech innovation leveraging advanced computational methods.
Given the rise of ChatGPT and growing interest in the possibilities of AI in educational settings, the 2023-24 competition is especially interested in supporting teams that are exploring, testing, or using AI-enabled tools and services to impact learning.

OpenAI will select up to three recipients of the OpenAI Learning Impact Prize among competition winners who will receive $100,000 in additional funds, $10,000 in OpenAI API credits, and technical guidance from OpenAI engineers. Select contenders will also receive $2,500 in OpenAI API credits.

Competitors across all tracks that indicate an interest in being considered for this award will complete additional requirements when submitting their proposal materials. 

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Proposals will be evaluated for the following criteria



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, families, and educators



Ability to support learning engineering



Ability to scale to additional users and/or domains

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What is a Tool?

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.

Please note that this definition is not exhaustive. As technology continues to develop and innovations are created globally, other tool concepts may also be competitive.

Not sure your tool is eligible? Explore winning tools from previous years or get in touch.



September 21, 2023
Competition Launch
November 10, 2023
Deadline for Phase I Abstracts

Competitors submit an abstract describing the concept for their tool and responding to the evaluation criteria.

December 8, 2023
Select competitors invited to Phase II
February 2, 2024
Deadline for Phase II Proposals

Competitors develop a proposal and budget detailing their tool and its technology and responding in detail to the evaluation criteria. Rubrics will be posted when Phase II opens.

April 2024
Finalists invited to Phase III pitches
April-May 2024
Phase III Pitches (virtual)
Finalists pitch before a panel of expert judges and have the opportunity for support and feedback in crafting their pitch.
June 2024
Winners Announced
Winners are announced and receive the first installment of their award. Winners receive coaching, the opportunity to connect with leaders in the field, and the ability to present to researchers or to refine their tool.
Year Following the Competition - Winner Impact Study
All winners will work with Georgia State University during the year following the competition to define impact measures for their tool and set up processes for ongoing data collection and evaluation.
December 2024
Product Review Day
Winners present on their progress to date and receive feedback from other winners and leaders in the field. Progress is considered against winner’s proposal and receive the second installment of their award after Product Review Day.
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Explore a Different Track

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