Dec 21 2022

XPRIZE Learning & Society Domain Lead, Alexander Nicholas on educating learners for the future we want to create.

At XPRIZE, learning is at the core of everything we do. By focusing on solutions to the world’s greatest challenges, and creating the infrastructure and support for great minds to solve those problems, our Prizes foster imagination, inspiration, and hope for the future.

However, we can’t build a better future without ensuring everyone gets a seat at the table — that’s why we create Prizes to improve learning through access. We can do this in three key ways; digitization, democratization, and decentralization. As learning increasingly moves online, more people have access to it. But how do we ensure it is reaching as many people as possible, working as effectively as possible, and creating a more equitable future for all?? 

The Digital Learning Challenge is our $1M challenge sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences, to modernize, accelerate, and improve the ways in which we identify effective tools and processes that improve learning. The challenge will foster new tech to conduct experiments of frequency, scope and scale not possible through traditional methods used in education research or commercial EdTech. The result? A future with more effective digital learning for all. 

The Digital Learning Challenge bears the same DNA as past XPRIZE competitions in providing a critical link in the chain to unlocking quality education for all. The $15 million Global Learning XPRIZE, for example, ran between 2014 and 2019 and challenged teams from around the world to develop open-source, scalable software that empowers children to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic within 15 months. To date, millions of children in dozens of countries have benefited from the finalist teams’ technology.  

Here, XPRIZE Learning, Innovation & Society Domain Lead, Alexander Nicholas explains more about how we can educate learners for the future we want to create. 

Let’s set the scene: How has XPRIZE invested in learning in the past? 

We have predominantly made learning resources and tools more accessible, creating tools for populations that don’t have access. We’ve been opportunistic and experimental – both with dedicated Prizes like Global Learning XPRIZE that focus on learning entirely and with the learning aspects to competitions such as Google Lunar XPRIZE (where 4000 children in over 40 countries discovered and deepened their love of STEM through the Moonbots education program). 

Moving forward, we can take these learning to create initiatives that are even more strategic and bold to make learning experiences more impactful, accessible, and equitable. We know access will remain critical, and we know technology is an effective tool to address this issue of access, but we need to continue thinking about how we center learners and their unique needs in our work. It’s not enough to create tech that works, we have to think about how it shows up in the lives of learners and how we build on partnerships to facilitate scale. 

Why does the Digital Learning Challenge match the DNA of learning and society XPRIZE?

Right now, we as a society struggle with integrating new technology to support learning at scale. We are stuck with old methodology for defining what is effective. We have a tons of learning resources out there, some are good, some are not so great. What Digital Learning Challenge does is help us identify effective learning tools. The goal is for schools, teachers and parents to have tools to navigate among an overwhelming amount of learning resources. We believe better methodologies can also lead to better decision-making for educators and policymakers.

How will DLC improve learning in America? 

If we are successful with DLC it can really revolutionize the way we identify what good looks like. Trials will be a higher standard as your average test but at a fraction of the cost and time. DLC can also get us to a place where we can better personalize learning tools and resources. 

Has the learning landscape changed while the challenge has been underway and how has the Prize adapted to that? 

The field has seen an increased number of digital tools, resources and content borne out of the pandemic and the surge in distanced learning. We’re seeing great investment in these products, so the quality assessment needs to keep up with the huge influx of new resources. The rise of remote learning increased access, but we need to make sure there is access to quality tools.

Overall, how can learning lead to a more equitable society? 

One way is by closing the skills gap. There’s a growing gulf in terms of how folks are being educated and what skills the labor market rewards. g. We also know that the current educational system is not designed and  adjust to market forces. In our domain, we explore innovative models/ tools /resources/ technologies to train, retrain and reskill young learners or working learners so they can transition into new roles and jobs or into college. The Rapid Reskilling XPRIZE is focused on this challenge, specifically among populations that have been historically excluded.

Another way is by improving learning agency. It’s not sustainable for us to be overly tethered to physical institutions. We need to give learners true agency over their learning, as well as their employment records. This would allow learners to share verifiable skills with employers regardless of how or where that learning happens.

What is the future of learning? 

Overall, separating educational experience that is institution-based from skills development and transferability. 

Finally, what’s the greatest thing you’ve learned since being at XPRIZE?

I am actually more excited now than when I started at XPRIZE eight months ago, which is hard because I was excited then. The cause of this excitement and optimism is XPRIZE’s model for driving innovation by bringing inventors, entrepreneurs, students, and community leaders together to define bold and audacious opportunities for exponential change. Many of the vexing problems we have faced for generations around high-quality learning for all and economic and social mobility are well suited for disruption through an XPRIZE. 

Curious to learn more about the teams in the running to revolutionize learning? Visit the Digital Learning Challenge here.