5 reasons why XPRIZE will drastically advance adult literacy

5 reasons why XPRIZE will drastically advance adult literacy

How are we going to clean the oceans? Convert CO₂ emissions into valuable products? Turn air into drinking water?

XPRIZE is a nonprofit that uses global, high-profile competitions, with large monetary prizes, to incentivize the public to solve these daunting challenges through technology.

In 2015, XPRIZE added another one: How are we going to teach adults to read and write above a third grade level?


Sure, solving the problem of adult literacy isn’t straight-from-a-sci-fi script like some of the others. But make no mistake, XPRIZE and the Barbara Bush Foundation for Literacy, the competition’s funder, have teamed up to offer $7 million in prizes because of the magnitude of the problem: 36 million adults in the U.S. who lack basic literacy and numeracy skills. And only 2 million of them are served each year by existing educational programs geared around classrooms.

This startling and ever-expanding gap between demand and supply shortchanges both these low-literate adults, who desperately want to learn, and the companies that rely on them to reply to a customer e-mail or understand a training manual.

According to Mrs. Bush, we need “a radical breakthrough to end the cycle of low literacy in America.” The Adult Literacy XPRIZE, presented by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, aims to spur that breakthrough. The competition has challenged the public – entrepreneurs, innovators, educators – to develop mobile applications for adult learners that result in the greatest increase in literacy skills over one year.

Last month, XPRIZE judges whittled down the 109 registered teams from dozens of countries that had thrown their hats into the ring to just eight semi-finalists. The apps of these semi-finalists are now being used and tested by thousands of low-literate adults across Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Dallas in partnership with literacy advocates and city governments. The number of users will grow to 12,000, and the testing will wrap in July 2018.

As one of the semi-finalists, our company Cell-Ed believes this ambitious, large-scale competition will drastically and rapidly advance adult literacy – no matter who wins – by:

  1. Providing more mobile options for learners and those who serve them. Before XPRIZE kicked-off, you could count the number of mobile applications geared toward adult literacy on one hand, if you were being generous. This led Forbes to recently liken such limited supply to “no market” – a significant contrast to the crowded, literacy-oriented ed tech market in the K-12 space. But in less than two years, the competition has led to the creation of 85 companies trying to crack adult literacy. Now adult learners – and the companies, organizations and governments who work with them – finally have choices. And they can judge if they’re happy with the apps they’re using or want to switch, like the way a competitive market operates.
  2. Addressing the complex obstacles to learning that adults face. To ensure that those entering the competition would put forth carefully-considered solutions – not “just an app,” to quote Shlomy Kattan of XPRIZE – specific guidelines were established. Ease-of-use. Relevancy. Effectiveness. At Cell-Ed, we drew on an in-depth randomized control trial to design around adult learners’ pain points from the start, knowing it was the only surefire way to engage them. XPRIZE’s guidelines will result in solutions that do a better job.
  3. Injecting a badly-needed dose of urgency so adults can learn now. For decades, the field of adult literacy has stood still, if not slipped behind, despite soaring demand. To ramp up the pressure, the competition is measuring literacy gains in just one year. The assumption: not being able to read about your child’s illness online is urgent.
  4. Deepening our understanding of how adults learn over mobile. With 12,000 learners, the competition will be the largest adult literacy program in the country. A valuable longitudinal data set will result, significantly bolstering our nascent industry’s insights. (Cell-Ed tracks how our learners utilize our app and learning line in real time so we can make targeted improvements.)
  5. Beaming a spotlight at the issue. Big names like the Bush family, Larry Page and Arianna Huffington (both XPRIZE board members); millions in prize money; and the personal stories of low-literate adults who have been grossly overlooked will hopefully garner some attention. More journalists covering adult literacy, more entrepreneurs serving this untapped market and more investors funding them. The culmination of the competition won’t just be the announcement of the winners; it will be a vibrant marketplace generating solutions for people to better their lives. For years to come.


Original post: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/5-reasons-why-xprize-drastically-advance-adult-rothenberg-aalami