Learning Differences

The Learning Differences course unravels brain science making it approachable for educators and directly applicable to students and classroom learning. By focusing on executive functions such as attention, memory, task prioritization, organization, and planning, this course helps teachers and students understand how strengths and struggles in any of these areas manifest in classroom learning and what strategies support all functions of the brain. With a deeper understanding of learning differences, you can create a whole-child approach that recognizes each student's uniqueness and needs in the learning experience.

This course will equip you with:

  • A comprehensive understanding of learning differences and executive function with a deeper look at memory, and prioritizing and organizing tasks
  • Effective strategies to support students with diverse learning needs
  • An opportunity to personalize the learning experience for all students in your classroom

Developed for educators and completely redesigned in 2023, this course is open to participants from all schools and grade levels globally. Join us and gain the knowledge and skills to support the unique learning differences of each student.

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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 that will support student learning. The essential questions for this unit are:

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

Unit 2: 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 students' needs?

Unit 3: Organize and Prioritize

This unit focuses on the impact of a student’s ability to organize and prioritize tasks on learning and behavior in classrooms. Participants will learn and apply strategies to better foster student organization and prioritization. The essential questions are:

  • What does it mean to organize and prioritize tasks?
  • How can teachers help students with this competency?
  • Which strategies or solutions related to prioritizing and organizing best meet students' needs?

Unit 4: 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 students' needs?

Unit 5: Reflection of Learning

The purpose of this unit is to get participants thinking about the complexities and relatedness of learning differences. Then, participants will hone their skills to identify how to leverage a 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 understanding of each student?
  • How can educators collect student data to select and implement strategies to support individual student needs?

In order to successfully earn a certificate of completion participants must:

  • Complete an initial survey about your background, organization, and goals for taking the Learning Differences course through registration.
  • 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.
  • Complete the Plan, Do, Study Act (PDSA) for each unit to put application into action.
  • Contribute to the Learning Differences course forums 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.
  • Reflect on your Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) activities to identify lessons learned from student feedback.
  • Complete the end-of-course survey 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.

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.

Alex Dreier

Alex Dreier

Alex Dreier was previously the Instructional Design Lead at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation. He has over 15 years of experience in designing learning environments that meet the needs of all students, specifically initiatives around social and emotional learning, learning differences, competency-based learning for educators, digital learning, and more. He was previously the PI on a multi-year, million-dollar Oak Foundation grant that supports educators in creating learning environments to support all of their students. He was also the Co-PI on an NSF-Funded project to create a personalized professional learning portal for teaching statistics. Prior to this, Alex spent five years managing the Friday Institute's MOOCs-for-Educators initiative, which continues to meet the needs of a global audience of tens of thousands of educators using research-based practices for professional learning. Before coming to the Institute, he managed the online professional learning courses for EdTech Leaders Online at Education Development Center (EDC), helping build the capacity of organizations to build and support their own online learning programs. Alex holds a B.A. from Tulane University and an Ed.M. in Technology, Innovation, and Education from Harvard University.

Brittany Miller

Brittany Miller, M.Ed.

Brittany Miller is a Research Scholar at the Friday Institute and lead of the Learner Variability Project funded by the Oak Foundation. She works to inspire teachers to rethink their roles in the classroom and build their capacity for student-centered learning by first engaging teachers in the types of experiences and environments that show them how. This mindset drives her partnerships with schools and districts across North Carolina and beyond in implementing student-centered pedagogies and creating a culture that prioritizes the overall development of learners.

Callie Edwards

Dr. Callie Edwards

Dr. Callie Womble Edwards is an Educational Researcher with a multidisciplinary background in public health, workforce development, learning outcomes assessment, and program evaluation. She holds a Ph.D. in Educational Research and Policy Analysis from North Carolina State University (NCSU) and a M.P.H. in Health Behavior from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Since 2018, Dr. Edwards has served as a Research Associate at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, where she evaluates educational initiatives using quantitative and qualitative methodologies. She currently leads eight Friday Institute research and evaluation projects, including one multi-district evaluation and three multi-school evaluations. As Project Lead, she is responsible for planning, management, and day-to-day operations, and she is also the main point of contact for the internal NCSU team, external partners, and clients. A major aspect of Dr. Edwards’ work is developing and maintaining effective research-practice partnerships (RPPs) with schools and districts. She also directs the Friday Institute’s inaugural Educational Research and Evaluation Internship Program for undergraduate students. Recently, Dr. Edwards was nominated for the 2020 NC State University Award for Excellence, the most prestigious honor bestowed upon non-faculty employees. Prior to joining the Friday Institute, she served as a Research Specialist at the North Carolina Department of Commerce, and a Research Assistant in the Office of Assessment at NCSU.

Patricia Hilliard

Dr. Patricia Hilliard

Dr. Patricia Hilliard is a former Research Scholar at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University. She worked with school districts to design, develop and deliver professional learning for teachers, administrators, and instructional support staff. Dr. Hilliard led the NC Conference for Educational Equity which brought together more than 2,000 educators. The conference challenged them to rethink their current practices, disrupt our broken system, and create equitable practices and policies to better support each and every student. She earned a Doctorate of Philosophy in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Urban Education from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She has been a high school teacher, university instructor, lead instructor and instructional coach. Additionally, Patricia has presented at numerous conferences and written several blogs for Edutopia and Digital Learning Collaborative. Connect with her on Twitter @HilliardPhD.

Amy Walter

Amy Walter

Meet Amy Walter, a Research Scholar on the PLLC team with the Friday Institute. Amy is a lifelong learner and teacher, and her passion for education is evident in her dedication to creating a future where every teacher is a master of their craft, sparking a love of learning in every student, and driving academic excellence through innovative and dynamic professional development designed and delivered with passion.

With a solid understanding of curriculum and instructional practices and the ability to bring research to practice, Amy is constantly seeking new opportunities to strengthen her instructional skills and share her own learning. Her vast experience in schools, including her roles as a classroom teacher, intervention coordinator, and instructional facilitator in Caldwell and Wake County Public School Systems, allows her to establish a strong culture while ensuring quality instruction.

Amy’s areas of focus include increasing student engagement, breaking down barriers to educational success, and designing accessible learning opportunities so that all students achieve at high levels. She is skilled at working with school leadership teams as well as individual educators and is dedicated to empowering educators to unlock the full potential of their students through ongoing professional development and support. Connect with her on Twitter @drinkofwalter.

Blake Wiggs

Blake Wiggs

Blake Wiggs is a former research scholar with the Friday Institute where he partners with districts to design adult learning experiences for teachers, coaches and administrators. His responsive approach to facilitation is informed by his experience with community organizing, social justice education and anti-racist affinity work. He received both his M.A. in teaching and B.A. in anthropology from East Carolina University and is currently pursuing his Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. His research is largely linguistic, focusing on the relationship between language, ideology and power. Most recently, he is conducting research in Peru and collaborating with Unlocking Silent Histories to make culturally sustaining practices visible through community-led voice.

Available On Demand
Duration 5 units
Cost Free
Primary Audience Educators
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