Our work: Learning Differences and the Future of Special Education

Unlocking the potential of neurodiverse students

Like all people, diverse learners need access to learning opportunities that expand their ability to engage fully in life. The initiative for Learning Differences and the Future of Special Education bridges the gap between research, innovation, practice, and policy to enable children with learning differences to thrive in their communities and beyond.

The Challenge

In the United States, 95% of teachers have had students designated for special education services or accommodations in their classrooms. Many educators lack the knowledge and skills needed to design and assess learning for the wide range of students they teach. Meanwhile, 48 states report severe shortages of special educators. Compounding the lack of prepared teachers are systems that don’t talk to each other and research that doesn’t make it into practice. All of these factors contribute to dismal graduation rates and limited post‐secondary options for children with diverse needs. In turn, that translates to under‐employment and lifelong limitations.

Further, research about learning differences has historically been siloed with minimal links to psychiatry, general education, neuroscience, learning sciences, technology, humanities, and policy. As a result, there is a shortage of innovative solutions that draw upon multiple disciplines, despite the catalytic potential of new technologies. Only a few major research universities are working on interdisciplinary discovery and development. Rapid advances in learning science, implementation research, and systems change enable new ways to realize the potential of children with learning differences.

Our Solution

With strength across disciplines and infrastructure for cross-disciplinary collaboration, the Learning Differences Initiative is uniquely poised to break down barriers in the fields addressing learning differences. By catalyzing interdisciplinary research, we advance discovery, design inclusive solutions, prepare educators, and mobilize knowledge to improve learning opportunities for students facing learning challenges.

Faculty Directors

Headshot of Elizabeth Kozleski

Elizabeth Kozleski

Faculty Co-Director, Learning Differences Initiative

Headshot of Ira Lit

Ira Lit

Faculty Co-Director, Learning Differences Initiative


Link to Learn more

Rapid Online Assessment of Reading (ROAR)

Identifying struggling young readers to get them the support they need has historically been a time-consuming, inefficient, expensive task. The Rapid Online Assessment of Reading (ROAR) is an open-access tool that delivers reading tests significantly more quickly and at scale with scores consistent with other standardized reading assessments. With scaling support from the Stanford Accelerator for Learning, the tool is now used in urban, suburban, and rural districts across 14 states.

Faculty lead

Jason Yeatman

Associate Professor

Learn more →

Using AI Analysis of Mobile Games to Both Track and Treat a Continuum of Early Childhood Learning

The focus of this research project will be to define these learning paths as cognitive taxonomic models to characterize a child’s learning potential and to design a series of mobile game solutions with embedded AI that foster personalized learning and dynamic movement along or switching among learning paths.

Faculty lead

Dennis Wall

Associate Professor