Learning Differences

In the Learning Differences Programme, we envision a world where students with learning differences are agents of their own learning success and are supported by educators and environments that expect, embrace and respond to diverse learner profiles.

We support teacher development, student engagement and parental understanding to enable students to follow their own individual paths to lifelong learning success. We seek partners who design and create learning environments that are informed by student voices, neuroscience, personalised learning best practices and universal design concepts.

Approximately 20 per cent of children (10 million students) in United States public schools have learning profiles that are not aligned with the expectations and teaching methodologies prevalent in mainstream school systems; they learn differently. Students with learning differences include those who have dyslexia, attention issues and learning disabilities. As a result of this mismatch, students with learning differences are often perceived as not being capable of performing well in school, as unmotivated or as just not trying hard enough. These students often disengage from school, perform poorly and may not graduate. Those who graduate often choose not to pursue post-secondary educational opportunities. As adults, many are under-employed or can even end up in prison.
 
Individuals with learning differences can achieve to the same standards as their peers; however, they often struggle to reach their full potential because:

  • teachers report being underprepared and lack resources to support diverse learners;
  • students are often misunderstood and not included in the conversation;
  • parents are not equipped with knowledge and tools to understand and advocate for their children;
  • most personalised learning environments are not optimised for students with learning differences;
  • neuroscience advances need to be translated into practice; and
  • tools need to be strengthened and developed to describe the dimensions of learning.

Priority Areas
In the Learning Differences Programme, we envision a world where students with learning differences are agents of their own learning success and are supported by educators and environments that expect, embrace and respond to diverse learner profiles.  Our hope is that students with a wide range of learning profiles achieve success within public schools, from kindergarten through to high school, and transition to and through college and other post-secondary opportunities.

We support partners who:

  1. Strengthen Teacher Capacity
    Prepare teachers to expect and plan for all students’ learning profiles, especially those with learning differences.
  2. Engage Students
    Engage students with learning differences as key partners in their own learning and development.
  3. Enhance Parent Knowledge and Support
    Provide parents of students with learning differences the information, tools and guidance needed to support student academic, social and emotional success.
  4. Personalise Learning Environments
    Support the application of personalised learning and neuroscience research findings to strengthen educational environments for students with learning differences.
  5. Build Demand
    Promote awareness of, and strengthen demand for, educational environments that are responsive to students with learning differences.
  6.  Explore Learner Profile Tool(s)
    Develop or enhance tools that support educators, parents and students in better understanding and responding to individual learner profiles.

Through these strategies, the programme will continue its efforts to improve the lives of those with learning differences across the globe. Our hope is that students with a wide range of learning profiles achieve success within public schools, from kindergarten through to high school, and transition to and through college and other post-secondary opportunities.
 
The Learning Differences Programme: 2015 update to programme strategy
In our first five years, we made over 60 grants and invested more than USD 28 million in the field of learning differences.  Today, the field is very different than when our programme began. There is: (1) greater focus on the “1 in 5” individuals with learning differences; (2) deeper coordination and collaboration across organisations; and (3) a greater connection between neuroscience and other research and the practices in classrooms and beyond.

We sought to refine our programme strategy in response to these changes. We undertook a nine-month process to learn about advances in relevant fields, review past grant-making, re-examine priorities and refine the programme strategy. The content on our website and in the strategic framework reflects these changes.

We support organisations in the United States and Europe as well as in a limited number of countries around the world.  We aim to increase support to worldwide initiatives. Please see our grant database for a complete list of our grants and their locations.

In addition to the overall principles of Oak Foundation, our programme strategy is based on the following core beliefs:

  1. Each learner possesses a diverse set of cognitive, social, and emotional assets, knowledge, skills, interests and preferences. These characteristics interact to form a unique learner profile that changes over time.
  2. Students, particularly those with learning differences, can achieve greater academic success when they understand how they learn and use that knowledge to plan for and adapt to learning environments and advocate for themselves as learners.
  3. Educators should expect and embrace students’ diverse learner profiles and have the knowledge and tools to personalise their instruction based on these profiles.
  4. Parents should understand their child’s unique learner profile and have the tools to advocate for him/her.
  5. Education systems should hold themselves accountable for the success of their students who learn differently.
  6. Student success should be defined using accountability frameworks with multiple indicators of academic performance as well as measures of social and emotional wellbeing, persistence and engagement.

 

Photo band © Virginia Ruan / Oak Foundation