NSF launches prize challenge to develop innovative learning technologies for K-12 students

The U.S. National Science Foundation today launched a $6 million prize challenge to develop innovative learning technologies for K-12 students, made possible through a partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Schmidt Futures, and the Walton Family Foundation.

The three-phase, one-year challenge, known as the Visionary Interdisciplinary Teams Advancing Learning, or VITAL, Prize Challenge, will encourage interdisciplinary teams from the science and engineering research and startup or small-business communities to advance innovative concepts into prototypes for potentially game-changing learning technologies.

"Through this prize challenge, diverse communities can merge recent discoveries in science, technology, engineering and mathematics with education and training processes to create more integrated and equitable innovations in learning technologies," said Erwin Gianchandani, assistant director for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships. "By facilitating elements of inclusive innovation, the United States can spur equitable and effective innovation in key areas of learning technologies, thereby bringing about transformations to the U.S. educational system and improving workforce development."

"The Walton Family Foundation is grateful to be partnering with the National Science Foundation to harness the energy and experience we need to tackle the unprecedented learning loss that our nation's children are facing," said Romy Drucker, Education Program Director, Walton Family Foundation. "We hope this catalytic investment will enable diverse thinkers and researchers to develop new evidence-based solutions that can unleash the talent and genius of many promising young minds for years to come."

"We are at a crucial moment to support the American educational system, especially in math and science," said Kumar Garg, Vice President of Partnerships at Schmidt Futures. "This project has the potential to dramatically improve outcomes for all students. It also underscores the importance of the new Technology, Innovation and Partnerships Directorate which will be key to the future of education innovation and development."

Participating teams will have the chance to receive over $70,000 in development and commercialization support through the Discovery, Semi-final and Final rounds, and up to $250,000 in prizes. These teams will be supported through training, coaching, resources, and funding to develop a marketable educational technology prototype that can equitably impact learning. They will simultaneously build capacities in entrepreneurship, research-based design, learner variability, inclusion, and equity in the education marketplace.

The VITAL Prize Challenge will focus on providing interdisciplinary teams the funding and training to build K-12 learning technology innovations at speed and scale for adoption nationwide. The challenge will be composed of four progressive steps:

  1. Concept Paper: A concept paper is submitted by any interested team;
  2. Discovery Round: An invitational opportunity for approximately 100 teams, chosen from those submitting Concept Papers, to participate in customer discovery activities;
  3. Semi-Final Round: Approximately 55 teams are partnered with an educational mentor (e.g., K-12 teacher) for prototype design, feasibility testing, and initial development activities; and
  4. Final Round: Approximately 35 teams will conduct prototype development and validation, culminating with a Pitch Session.

Teams applying to the VITAL Prize Challenge will submit concept papers to one of three K-12 technology translation tracks, depending on the anticipated application, end user, and area of impact: Rapid and Continuous Learning Assessment; Mathematical Literacy to Promote a Future STEM Workforce; or Other Innovations in Translational Learning Technologies. More details can be found in the VITAL Dear Colleague Letter or on the VITAL Prize Challenge webpage.

The VITAL Prize Challenge portal will begin accepting concept papers in Winter 2023. To receive an email notification about when and how to submit a concept paper, sign up for NSF's email newsletter for VITAL.