Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: Product Efficacy in Digital Learning Technologies
Facing an increasing number of different product options, school decision-makers today often lack the data and means to quickly evaluate whether a digital learning technology is effective – at a time when lean school budgets have only heightened the need to justify and assess the return on any investments in technology. At the same time, education entrepreneurs developing new products often find themselves lacking the proper feedback channels with users to build effective products that will optimally satisfy school needs. The goals for this RFP are to:
- Focus the development and adoption of personalized learning products on helping students achieve desired learning outcomes
- Put teachers and school decision-makers at the center of the shift toward personalized learning
- Lower risks and barriers to all parties of adopting new, potentially transformative products
- Encourage the rapid development of a healthy, transparent market for highly effective learning technologies
In 2013, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invested $2 million in new approaches to facilitating short-cycle feedback so that teachers, school decision-makers, and parents have better information about the effectiveness of digital courseware, and developers of such products could receive rapid input to improve their offerings. That investment supported the launch of two types of new initiatives that have supported more than 50,000 students and 2,000 teachers in piloting new courseware:
- Test bed networks: organizations that support schools in piloting innovative courseware products and help schools and entrepreneurs to collaboratively define a structured process to evaluate and improve the efficacy of digital courseware
- Efficacy platforms: technology platforms that use validated diagnostic and formative assessments to facilitate rapid iteration and improvement of digital content and tools
Based on that success, the Foundation is requesting proposals for a second cohort of test bed networks and efficacy platforms that can help improve digital courseware’s efficacy in:
- Student Learning: Effective digital courseware should not only enable students to achieve explicit learning objectives but also accelerate the pace at which they do so.
- Teacher Support: Effective digital courseware should be easy to implement and integrate into instructional plans, saving teachers time and helping them support their students’ learning needs.
- Engagement: Effective digital courseware should provide for a rich, compelling, and interactive experience that will encourage repeated, prolonged, and self-motivated use.
- Satisfaction: Effective digital courseware should sufficiently meet student and teacher needs and provide for a consistent, inviting, and intuitive experience.
Amount: The Foundation will evaluate and grant awards to ideas both in the Concept Development and Testing/Deployment stages:
- Concept Development (new concepts pre-beta testing) grants of up to $100,000 will be awarded to up to six organizations to facilitate concept development and testing in preparation for pilot.
- Testing/Deployment (school-ready products) grants of up to $350,000 will be awarded to up to four organizations to facilitate solution refinement and pilot in preparation for broad implementation and undefended, third-party evaluation.
Eligibility: The Foundation is targeting product entrepreneurs, market catalysts, and school networks/districts – or partnerships or combinations of these parties – with proposals for the following:
- Test Bed Networks: Collaborative partnerships between schools and entrepreneurs that facilitate broad usage of digital courseware by teachers and their students in order to build a continuous feedback loop on product efficacy for school decision-makers and entrepreneurs.
- Platforms: Technology products that will support data collection on digital courseware in order to assess product efficacy and that can support large-scale, short-cycle A/B testing.
- Combination: Solutions that combine Test Bed Networks with Platforms. The Foundation anticipates that most respondents will seek to address either a platform or test bed network in their proposals, but special consideration will be given to organizations that – whether on their own or through proposed or already established partnerships – can deliver on a comprehensive solution that combines both.
The Foundation encourages for-profit and non-profit organizations with demonstrated capacity for or promise of undertaking the work to respond.
Note: A Q&A call/webinar will be held on February 24, 2014
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