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 an online professional learning course 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 course 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 course.

Learn More

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?

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?

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 students' executive functioning skills in classrooms?
  • Which strategies or solutions related to executive functions best meet your students' needs?

Student Motivation

This unit focuses on the impact of students' motivation on learning and behavior 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?

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 student's learning profile to best support him or her. We have referenced this as being a "learning scientist" throughout the course. The essential questions for this unit are:

  • 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?

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 three additional modules that are 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 course, you and/or your site-based or organizational team will focus on the capacities of most value when becoming a successful coach 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 six weeks of the Learning Differences course. Throughout the course 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 course experience.

Learning Goals

  • Understand effective ways to coach teachers that help to better instill important lessons 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

Lessons Learned | What Is of Most Value as a Learning Differences Coach?

Part 3

Make a Plan | Finalize Your Action Plan, Provide Peer Feedback, & Reflect on Your Course Journey

Earning a Certificate of Completion

In order to successfully earn a certificate of completion participants must meet the following expectations:

  1. As part of the registration process, complete an initial survey about your background, organization, and goals for taking the Learning Differences course.
  2. Complete the Learner Profile activity in Unit 1 to begin reflecting on your own learning differences.
  3. Engage in the materials and course activities as suits your learning needs. Review selected background materials (videos, webcasts, readings), follow personalized pathways that suit your needs, and engage in activities to help illustrate core concepts. These are designed to provide some common background, frameworks, and language to inform the discussions, projects, and the community. A certificate of completion requires 20 hours of participation in the course.
  4. Contribute to the Learning Differences course by asking questions, responding to others' questions, and sharing ideas in the discussion forums; agreeing with or identifying comments as insightful; suggesting resources that will be useful to others; and sharing your expertise in other ways. A certificate of completion requires participation in at least one discussion per unit.
  5. Create a teaching mantra that describes your philosophy about learning and learning differences.
  6. Complete a survey about the course at the end of the course and provide suggestions for improving it in the future.

Earning Continuing Education Units (CEUs)

Participants will have the opportunity to earn a certificate of completion for 20 hours of professional development during the Learning Differences course and an additional 5 hours (25 total) for completing the coaching component of the course. 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.

Friday Institute Online Professional Learning Courses 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

Duration 5 units
Cost Free
Primary Audience Elementary School Teachers
Middle School Teachers
High School Teachers
Instructional Coaches
Instructional Support Teams
Certificate Available Yes
Certificate Hours 20

Previous Courses

Fall 2022
Fall 2021
Summer 2020
Summer 2019
Fall 2018
Spring 2018
Fall 2017
Fall 2016
Fall 2015
Summer 2015