How Educational Institutions are Using Online Contests to Solicit Innovative Ideas

Updated: Feb 29


Contests for Innovation

In many ways, this is the age of innovation. According to a recent McKinsey study, a dozen or so cutting-edge technologies (genomics, automation, energy storage, etc) will create major economic and social transformation in the next few decades. The value of these innovative technologies could constitute one-third of the global GDP by 2025.


Educational institutions have always been at the forefront of innovation— with many path-breaking leaps coming from student projects. Yet, given how quickly technology is changing, schools and Universities need to make a concerted effort to keep up if they want to continue as hotbeds of innovation.


One of the big challenges that education providers face in this context is providing the right environment for innovation. Innovation isn’t something that can be taught in a classroom as part of a curriculum— it comes from the student’s innate curiosity and thirst for building something worthwhile. It’s the school/University’s job to cultivate this curiosity and provide the best platform for innovation to thrive.


This is an area where most educational institutions today are struggling. Students today are digital natives — having grown up with exposure to digital devices and all kinds of content. Yet as a sector, education expenditure is less than 3%In an overstimulated environment, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for schools and colleges to find ways to bring out the innovative spirit in their students.


This is where online contests come in. In recent years, many educational institutions have started using online contests to promote innovation among students— encouraging students to submit innovative ideas through user-generated videos. Here’s why online contests are such an effective way of driving student innovations:


Online contests are easier to facilitate

Competition is one of the best ways to foster a spirit of innovation among students. Traditional competitions come with many logistical issues — where it will be held, how many people can participate, how to shortlist the right people, etc— which can make them limited in their scope. By creating online contests educational institutions have so much more bandwidth — the logistical hurdles get reduced immediately and many more people can now participate. The more broad-based a competition is, the likelier it is to get brilliant entries.

Many schools and colleges even use online contests as the first step— finalists are shortlisted using the online contest, after which the physical event takes place. For instance, the National Number Knockout uses a scouting video as a first step to shortlist final candidates. The final event is then held aboard a cruise ship where the winner is announced.

New-age content format

In most online contests, students participate by submitting their own videos. Videos are one of the most popular content formats today — accounting for a whopping 78% of internet traffic. Young people, especially, are extremely comfortable with creating videos as a means of self-expression. Videos come with an element of excitement and fun which really encourages participation.

Let’s take the Young Musician of the Year Award as an example. The YMYA is an online contest open to all school students in the UAE— participants need to submit a music video of up to 200 seconds, and the videos are open to public voting. This is a great way to keep students engaged, while also finding some truly spell-binding musical innovations.

Provides inspiration for future innovation

User-generated contest entries are easily available online. They often end up being watched by students time and again. A student may watch a video entry by a peer and get inspired to make their own submission. Take this contest called Outdoor Weber where students submit a 90-second video explaining their outdoor recreation idea. The video contest is used to shortlist a set of finalists— and the eventual winner gets a prize of $30000. Students that watch the contest videos submitted by their peers are likely to get inspired and come up with their own entrepreneurship idea.

From idea to innovation

User-generated videos are a huge blessing for the education providers themselves. These short videos contain the seeds of new and innovative ideas that schools/colleges can help their students take to the next level. The integrated community of administration, faculty, and family can come together to provide the students with the resources they need — from funding to logistics to networks. This means that a lot of ideas can then find their way to becoming actual physical products and services. This process doesn’t just transform the lives of students — it also helps establish the institution’s reputation as a place that drives innovation.


Today, innovations are coming at a faster pace than ever before. With the internet making access to information so decentralized, sharp minds from across the world are building path-breaking products and services. In these circumstances, if schools and colleges want to continue leading innovation, they have to find unique ways of encouraging students and building curiosity. Online contests are a great way to get there.

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