May 09 2023

The challenge, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, is designed to improve understanding of what works in education, saving time and boosting learning outcomes for millions of students

LOS ANGELES, Ca. (May 9, 2023) -- XPRIZE, the world’s leader in designing and operating incentive competitions to solve humanity’s grand challenges, hosts a virtual event today to celebrate the grand prize winner of the $1M Digital Learning Challenge, Adaptive Experimentation Accelerator from Raleigh, North Carolina, and showcase the technology developed by the challenge’s three finalist teams, including team Terracotta from Indiana University and team UpGrade by Carnegie Learning.

Launched in 2021, the Digital Learning Challenge incentivized teams to modernize, accelerate, and improve the technology and processes for evaluating and measuring effective learning and education. Using tools like AI methods, big data, and machine learning, teams sought to better understand the effectiveness of specific teaching techniques and practices, with the goal of providing substantial benefit for educators, parents, policymakers, researchers, and the tens of millions of Americans enrolled in formal education every year. The challenge is sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the independent and nonpartisan statistics, research, and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

The three finalist teams participating in the Accelerate & Modernize: New Methods to Assess Student Learning Outcomes closing event include: 

  • Grand Prize Winner: Adaptive Experimentation Accelerator – Raleigh, North Carolina (Partnership between Intelligent Adaptive Interventions lab at University of Toronto, Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon, & North Carolina State University)
    • The Adaptive Experimentation Accelerator network aims to involve everyone in using experiments to enhance and personalize education. Our 'MOOClet' toolkit democratizes the contribution of ideas from many teachers, students, and scientists, then experimentally tests which ideas work for which students. Artificial Intelligence algorithms analyze data to adapt experiments in days vs months. This aims to test more ideas more quickly, and to use promising data to more rapidly get better approaches to students.
  • Finalist: Terracotta – Bloomington, Indiana (Indiana University)
    • Terracotta is an open source plugin to the Canvas learning management system, enabling researchers and teachers to conduct rigorous and responsible experimental studies on learning activities within a course site. Using Terracotta, the team was able to conduct over two-dozen mini-experiments across a variety of courses, ranging from 6th grade to college seniors, where each experiment used local materials and authentic teacher-created assessments.
  • Finalist: UpGrade by Carnegie Learning – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    • UpGrade is a free, open-source platform that enables iterative experimental design and deployment of new learning experiences that compare the efficacy of different tools and resources—such as lesson content, interactive elements, videos, algorithms and more—during active student learning. Each experiment measures what works best for whom, advancing the way we understand student learning and engagement and enabling the rapid design, deployment and analysis of large scale studies, including but not limited to complex K-12 school environments.

The final round or demonstration phase of the competition required teams to replicate their experiments at least five times with three or more distinct learner demographics. Based on their demonstration performance, Adaptive Experimentation Accelerator receives the grand prize designation and $500,000, while runners-up Terracotta and UpGrade will each receive $125,000 prizes. The three teams previously shared a $250,000 prize when they were announced as finalists in September 2022.

During the closing event, each of the three teams will present their technology and how it works, followed by a discussion of lessons learned from the Digital Learning Challenge. With the Challenge now concluded, the teams will seek to work with partners across the education and technology sectors to scale the impact and implementation of their solutions.

“Through their participation and success in the Digital Learning Challenge, each of these teams has helped make advancements in technology to improve the ways that educators teach and that students learn,” said IES director Dr. Mark Schneider. “These teams have laid the groundwork for a new phase of experiments of frequency, scope and scale not possible through traditional methods of education research, which will ultimately lead to better experiences and outcomes for all learners.”

In the initial pilot phase of the competition, 10 teams had six months to demonstrate the capabilities of their rapid, reproducible experiments in an accredited education institutional setting and then 30 days to launch a replication study with at least one unique learner demographic. A judging panel of education and technology experts reviewed the pilot study technical submissions and selected three teams to move on to the final round and ultimately designated the winner.

“We are deeply proud of the achievements of the Digital Learning Challenge finalist teams, whose creativity and commitment to improving education outcomes through technology and experimentation will resonate far beyond the conclusion of the competition,” said XPRIZE Digital Learning Challenge Technical Lead Dr. Monique Golden. “We look forward to working with these teams to forge new partnerships that will ensure they can continue developing and refining their technologies and scale the impact of their solutions.”

The Digital Learning Challenge is part of XPRIZE’s Learning and Society domain which is committed to achieving a future where everyone, regardless of income, race, age, identity, gender, or geography, has access to learning experiences to reflect their unique capabilities, disposition, and aspirations.

For more information on the Digital Learning Challenge and the teams involved, visit xprize.org/challenge/digitallearning. To discuss potential partnerships with the finalist teams, please reach out to [email protected] 


XPRIZE is a global future-positive movement delivering truly radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. XPRIZE inspires and empowers a global community of problem-solvers to positively impact our world by crowdsourcing solutions through large-scale competitions, tackling the world’s grandest challenges in exploration, environment, and human equity. Donate, learn more or join a team at xprize.org.

About the Institute of Education Sciences

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is the independent and nonpartisan statistics, research, and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Education. Their mission is to provide scientific evidence on which to ground education practice and policy and to share this information in formats that are useful and accessible to educators, parents, policymakers, researchers, and the public. Learn more at ies.ed.gov.