Learning Differences

All of us, children and adults alike, have different strengths and weaknesses in our learning. Historically, however, schools have approached student learning with a one-size-fits-all mentality and have struggled to adapt to changing student needs.

That ends now.

In order to help you change the way your students learn, this course will expand your knowledge related to learning differences, provide actionable strategies to impact the learning experience of your students, and cultivate a growth mindset related to learning differences.

Course Objectives

  • To leave participating educators with an understanding of what learning differences are and how they affect all students.
  • To foster a growth mindset or problem solving approach among educators as they work with students.
  • To provide educators with job-embedded strategies that will help them as they meet the diverse needs of all students.
  • To connect educators with other like-minded educators to support the expansion of their own personalized learning network.
  • To curate the rich, existing content and develop a Massive Online Open Course for Educators (MOOC-Ed) on Learning Differences to meet the needs of Oak Foundation partners, including Big Brother/Big Sister, the New Teacher Center, Teach for All, and Teach for America; provide access to the MOOC-Ed to teachers and those who coach and support teachers across the world; and to create models for blended learning opportunities with Oak Foundation partners in conjunction with the MOOC-Ed.

Learn More


Complete the registration survey to provide information about yourself, your school or district, and your goals for participating in the Learning Differences MOOC-Ed.

Unit 1: Thinking Differently about Student Learning

Participants will further their thinking about Learning Differences and the "myth of average" among their students. Educators will begin to develop and apply learning differences teaching competencies which will support student learning. The essential questions for this unit are:

  • What are learning differences?
  • How does thinking about students’ learning differences affect my teaching practice?
  • What are the benefits of focusing on students’ strengths rather than weaknesses? What are the challenges of this approach?

Unit 2: Working Memory

This unit focuses on the impact of working memory on student learning and behavior in classrooms. Participants will learn and apply strategies to better support students' working memories. The essential questions are:

  • What is Working Memory and how does it affect student learning?
  • How can teachers support students who struggle with working memory or leverage students with strong working memory?
  • Which strategies or solutions related to working memory best meet your students' needs?

Unit 3: Executive Function

This unit establishes a basic understanding of executive functioning skills by explaining what they are and how they impact student learning. The essential questions are:

  • What are executive functioning skills and how do they affect student learning?
  • How can teachers develop executive functioning skills in classrooms?

Unit 4: Student Motivation

This unit focuses on the impact of students' motivation on learning and behaviour in classrooms. Participants will learn and apply strategies to better foster student motivation. The essential questions are:

  • What are intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and how do they affect student learning?
  • How can teachers build intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in classrooms?
  • Which strategies or solutions related to motivation best meet your students' needs?

Unit 5: Strategies for Supporting the Whole Student

The purpose of this unit is to get you thinking about the complexities and relatedness of learning differences. Then, we hope to begin honing your skills to approach a student and identify how to leverage that students' learning profile to best support him or her. We have referenced this as being a "learning scientist" throughout the course.

  • How do the constructs of learning work together to build a complex, individual learner profile in each of my students?
  • How can I collect student data to select and implement strategies to support individual student needs?

Unit 6: Internalizing a Growth Mindset

In prior units, we built knowledge of and strategies for addressing various constructs of learning differences. In this unit, we bring these elements together to apply in your classroom and outline opportunities for future learning. The essential questions are:

  • What progress have you made in your classroom with regard to learning differences?
  • What strategies or next steps would you take to continue down this path?

Interested in the Learning Differences Coaching Component?

During the course, instructional coaches, media coordinators, and teacher leaders will have the opportunity to participate in an additional section in Units 2, 4, and 6 that is focused on strategies for coaching and supporting other teachers in their work with learning differences. The outline for the coaching portion of the course is in the next tab.

In this extended portion of the Learning Differences MOOC-Ed, you or your site-based or organizational team will focus on the capacities of most value when becoming a successful coach, specifically as it pertains to helping your colleagues/other teachers serve all the various learners in their classroom.

You or your team will be working on a cumulative deliverable - a Learning Differences Coaching Action Plan. This plan serves as a guiding template as you or your team organize and consolidate your coaching practice and align that with the various activities, strategies and ideas gleaned from the first 6-weeks of the Learning Differences MOOC-Ed. In weeks 2, 4, and 6, you will be provided directions for completing specific elements of the template. You are always encouraged to tailor your action plan your to your team’s own context and needs. You will also engage in a peer-review experience to further refine your action plan. Finally, you are invited to reflect and share your ahas gleaned over the MOOC-Ed experience.

Learning Goals

  • Understand effective ways to coach teachers that help to better instill important lessoned learned from the Learning Differences MOOC-Ed;
  • Develop learning differences teaching competencies that are related to coaching through ongoing reflection in your own context and the various teachers and students you serve.


Part 1

Coaching | Stewarding the Future of Learning & Teaching

Part 2

Lesson Learned | What is of Most Value as Learning Differences Coaches?

Part 3

Finalize Action Plan, Provide Peer Feedback….Then Reflect On Your MOOC-Ed Journey

Earning Continuing Education Units (CEUs)

Participants will have the opportunity to earn a certificate of completion for 20­ - 30 hours of professional development during the Learning Differences MOOC­Ed. Course requirements are clearly specified in each unit on the “Earning Your Certificate” page.

You can submit the certificate to your local agency with a request for CEUs. Granting of CEUs will be subject to the policies and procedures of your state and local agency. If your state needs additional forms filled, please send them to ld@mooc-ed.org with the subject line: LD CEU Form Request.

The people below are the primary authors of the course and will be present throughout to further discussion, answer questions, and learn with participants.

Lauren Acree

I believe that all students have the capacity, desire, and right to learn. As educators we have a unique and empowering position to unlock the unique potential in every student and to equip students with the long-term skills and mindsets they will need to be successful citizens.
Lauren is a Research Associate at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, where she is the project manager of the Learning Differences MOOC-Ed, develops content for the State Leadership course for Digital Learning, and serves on a variety of teams for the Digital Learning Plan. Her professional interests center on education policy and scaling personalized, high-quality education for all students. Prior to joining the Friday Institute, Lauren got her Master of Public Policy from Duke University and taught Special Education as part of Teach for America in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Suzanne Branon

When those who have power to name and to socially construct reality, choose not to see you or hear you, whether you are dark-skinned, old, disabled, female, or speak with a different accent or dialect than theirs, when someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing. Yet you know you exist and others like you, that this is a game with mirrors. It takes some strength of soul — and not just individual strength, but collective understanding — to resist this void, this nonbeing, into which you are thrust, and to stand up, demanding to be seen and heard.
Adrienne Rich "Invisibility in Academe," 1986, p. 199
Before joining the Friday Institute as a Project Manager and Research Associate, Suzanne Branon earned her Master of Arts in Teaching in Secondary Education (English), taught in North Carolina and New York, and completed her doctoral coursework in Education Policy from Indiana University in Bloomington while working as a Graduate Research Assistant at IU's Center for Evaluation and Education Policy and IUPUI's Center for Urban and Multicultural Education. She is currently writing a dissertation on student engagement related to audemes, an aural stimuli and innovative instructional tool being implemented at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Alex Dreier

I'm sure that I came across as slightly apathetic at times; an undercurrent of agitation inevitably surfaced when you called on me unexpectedly. But it wasn't because I didn't care. It really was much more prosaic than that.
It was probably because I had set my alarm to 3:30 a.m. instead of 6:30 a.m. the day before, or perhaps because I had left my binder for your class on my bed that morning. That's why this work around learning differences matters to me, and why it's never too late — or early — to wake up.
Alex Dreier is a Research Associate at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at the NC State University's College of Education. His current work focuses on the instructional design and content development for MOOC-Eds. Prior to joining the Institute, Alex managed the online training courses for EdTech Leaders Online, a nationally recognized online professional development organization housed at Education Development Center, Inc., in Waltham, MA. Among the courses that Alex helped update and maintain were "Meeting Student Needs Through Differentiated Instruction", "Technology, Teaching, and Universal Design", and "Transforming the Classroom with Project-Based Learning". He holds a B.A. in Psychology from Tulane University and an Ed.M. in Technology, Innovation, and Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Dr. Lisa Hervey, NBCT

A successful day is when I
  • strive to ​unlock the passions and strengths simmering within each learners' being;
  • provide ​sustained ​fair and equitable access into the educational space for all learners; and
  • every time I interact with learners, I think, "How does this learner learn best?"
Dr. Lisa Hervey, NBCT, is a Senior Research Scholar and Digital Learning Coach at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation and Teaching Professor in the College of Education's Instructional Technology Program at North Carolina State University. With over 16 years of experience, starting with 10 years as a public school 6th–8th-grade Language Arts teacher, she strives to empower all educators to "take risk with intention" within their digital learning spaces. She dedicates every day to fostering teachers' accomplished, innovative practices and nurturing revolutionary district-wide culture shifts.

Dr. Alex Kaulfuss, NBCT

I strive to meet each student where he/she is; to prepare him/her for any possibilities the future may hold; to encourage his/her interests, strengths, and goals; and to support him/her where help is needed. In order to help students learn all that they can, I continue to learn all that I can.
After earning a B.A. in English Education from NC State University, Dr. Alex Kaulfuss began teaching 9th- and 12th-grade English and Forensic Debate. During his 12-year tenure as a classroom teacher, Alex earned an M.S. in English Education, acquired dual certification in Mathematics, became a National Board Certified Teacher, received the Jenrette Teaching Excellence Award, and earned a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction. After teaching, Alex became an Education Consultant for the NC Department of Public Instruction and is currently a Research Associate with NCSU's Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, working with teachers to find ways to incorporate technology in the classroom. His education and research interests include implementing technology in the classroom and utilizing visual texts to augment the overall reading experience. His joy and inspiration come from his wife and five amazing children.

Brittany Miller

Meet students where they are and support them in growth to who they could be, as all students enter the classroom with their own viewpoint, goals and dreams for their future.
Brittany Miller is a Digital Learning Coach and Project Coordinator for the William and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University working to build a common language and understanding of technology use in the classroom for 21st-century learning with teachers, ITFs, principles, district leaders and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Dr. Mary Ann Wolf

Equity is not about equal inputs but about understanding what each child needs to reach his or her potential. For me, learning differences allows us to understand what this means for each child.
Mary Ann Wolf, Ph.D., has fifteen years of experience in education and education technology. Mary Ann has worked closely with federal, state, and local education leaders; policy-makers; and organizations on connecting policy and practice for innovative education reform, digital learning, and instructional practices. Mary Ann developed and co-facilitated the Digital Learning Transition MOOC for Educators through the Friday Institute at NC State University and the Alliance for Excellent Education. She is also the lead researcher on the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Project Tomorrow Teachers' Readiness to Adopt and Adapt Content (TRAAC) project, which includes in-person and virtual focus groups with education leaders and teachers.
Mary Ann taught fifth grade in Virginia, studied education leadership with and conducted extensive research on teacher time and professionalism at the University of Virginia, and worked for KPMG Peat Marwick as a consultant for federally funded grant programs. Mary Ann has a Ph.D. in Education from the University of Virginia, an M.Ed. in Elementary Education from George Washington University, and a B.S. in Accounting and Marketing from Georgetown University.

Our team of experts provided core resources and interviews, and they continue to help support learners by answering questions and participating in discussions.

Mary-Dean Barringer
Director of the Network for Transforming Educator Preparation, Council for Chief State School Officers

Mary-Dean Barringer is a program director at the Council for Chief State School Officers working with a network of states and national partners on policies that support transforming educator preparation. Until May of 2012, she was the CEO of All Kinds of Minds in Durham, North Carolina, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness about the value of and need for the science of learning in schools, provides educators with research-based training and tools they can use in their classrooms, continues to build the field of knowledge about learning and its variation, and demonstrates and validates new models for building learning expertise within the teaching profession. Ms. Barringer also is a founding member of the NBPTS Board of Directors, and later served on staff as vice president for Outreach and Mobilization.

Jamie Basham
Associate Professor, Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas

James D. (Jamie) Basham, Ph.D., is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas. He earned his doctorate at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Basham’s research is focused on student learning in modern learning environments chiefly related to the application of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). He is well published, has given numerous talks, and has served as a consultant for school districts, universities, state agencies, and corporate entities on modern learning environments, Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) education, big data, personalization, and UDL. Dr. Basham serves on editorial boards for various journals and was a co-guest editor for the Journal of Special Education Technology topical issue on STEM education for individuals with diverse learning needs. Beyond journals, he serves on the ISTE SETSIG executive board and the SXSWedu Advisory Board. Finally, Dr. Basham is a cofounder of the global UDL Implementation Research Network (UDL-IRN).

Kim Carter
Exeutive Director, QED Foundation

With over 35 years of experience in education, Kim Carter has taught pre-K through graduate school and provided training, coaching, and facilitation for administrators, teachers, parents, community partners, and youth in schools and learning organizations in the United States and the United Kingdom. As 1991 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year and 1996 New Hampshire Media Educator of the Year, Kim has been actively involved in local, state, and national education reform efforts for over two decades, including Souhegan High School, Monadnock Community Connections School, Five Freedoms Project, and most recently, the Q.E.D. Foundation. Kim's expertise and interests include designing personalized, competency-based learning environments, democratic schooling, educational equity, and mind, brain, and education science.

Stacy Parker-Fisher
Director (Learning Differences), Oak Foundation

Stacy Parker-Fisher joined Oak Foundation in May of 2009. She has been a teacher for students with learning differences for 13 years, a paediatric faculty member at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, consultant to Chicago and St. Louis public schools, and an international educational consultant prior to joining Oak Foundation. She has been married to Charlie for 34 years, and they have three sons — Zach, Isaac, and Seth — and one lovely granddaughter, Maia.

Todd Rose
Lecturer on Education, Harvard University Graduate School of Education; President and Co-Founder, The Center for Individual Opportunity

L. Todd Rose is the co-founder and president of the Center for Individual Opportunity, a nonprofit organization dedicated to maximizing opportunity using the science of the individual. In addition, he is a faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he teaches Educational Neuroscience. Todd is also the author of "Square Peg", and the forthcoming "The End of Average".

The people below contributed to the course content with a lens for evaluation. They collect and analyze MOOC-Ed data to help the Friday Institute constantly improve its MOOC-Eds.

Dr. Sherry Booth

Sherry is a Senior Research Scholar at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the College of Education at North Carolina State University. Sherry's professional interests center on the development and evaluation of innovative uses of technology to support teaching and learning. Currently, Sherry co-leads the evaluation of all Friday Institute MOOC-Eds. Sherry holds a B.A. in Mathematics from Sweet Briar College; an Ed.M. from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education; and a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from North Carolina State University.

Dr. Shaun Kellogg

Dr. Shaun Kellogg is a Research Scholar at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University. Prior to his work in research and evaluation, he spent 10 years in K-12 education, beginning his teaching career as a Peace Corps Volunteer and later teaching in the public school systems of Michigan and North Carolina. He holds a B.A. from the University of Michigan, teaching certification from Michigan State University, and a Ph.D. in Education from NC State University.

The people below are a big part of the reason this course can even exist. They set up the technology, systems, and media for the MOOC-Ed.

Benjamin Robinson

Benjamin Robinson is the media coordinator at The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation. He received his master's degree in Interactive Media at Elon University. Benjamin has more than five years in media production where he takes responsibility for documenting culture through film and uses the internet to gain information to create a larger platform for his community using social networks and other tools.

Mark Samberg

Mark Samberg joined the Friday Institute in May of 2013. As Technology Innovation Lead, Mark works with the project teams to identify, select, and implement technology solutions into the work of the teams across the Institute. Prior to joining the FI, Mark was the Chief Technology Officer for Bertie County Schools, an Instructional Technology Specialist in Currituck County Schools and Hertford County schools, and a math teacher and the designer/developer of the SAM/SPAN applications in Wake County Schools. Mark has completed the Certified Educational Chief Technology Officer program through the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, holds B.S. degrees in Mathematics Education and Computer Science from NC State University, and a Master of Instructional Technology from East Carolina University.
MOOC-Eds provide a scalable, accessible, and flexible approach that is aligned with the principles of effective professional learning. Our approach is grounded in authentic, active, and collaborative professional learning activities. The approach builds upon the following key design principles: 

  • Self-directed learning, through personalizing your experience by identifying your own goals, selecting among a rich array of resources, and deciding whether, when, and how to engage in discussions and activities to further your own learning and meet your goals. 
  • Peer-supported learning, through engaging in online discussions, reviewing your colleagues' projects, rating posted ideas, recommending resources, crowdsourcing lessons learned, and participating in twitter chats and other exchanges appropriate to the individual course. 
  • Job-embedded learning, through the use of case studies, classroom and school related projects; developing action plans; and other activities that center your work on critical problems of practice and data-informed decision-making in your own classrooms, schools or districts. 
  • Multiple voices, through learning about the perspectives of other teachers and administrators along with those of students, researchers and experts in the field. Our courses are purposefully not designed around one or two experts who present online lectures. They provide exposure to a rich set of perspectives presented within the context of course elements that reflect these core principles.

You will see these design principles implemented in our courses through the following instructional elements:

  • Conceptual Frameworks
  • Resource Collections
  • Asynchronous Discussions and Twitter Chats
  • Student Scenarios
  • Expert Panels
  • Participant Projects and Peer Feedback
  • Crowd-sourcing
  • Professional Learning Community (PLC) Guides

Future Start Date(s) Fall 2017
Duration 6 weeks
Cost Free
Primary Audience Elementary School Teachers
Middle School Teachers
High School Teachers
Instructional Coaches
Instructional Support Teams
Certificate Available Yes
Certificate Hours 20-30

Micro-credentials (Learn More)

Learning Differences

Previous Courses

Fall 2016
Fall 2015
Summer 2015