Our work: Learning Differences and the Future of Special Education

Expanding opportunities for diverse learners

All people 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 supports and cultivates breakthrough research, policy innovation, and inclusive leadership development that significantly improve opportunities for children with diverse learning needs.

The Challenge

Across the U.S., 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, special education research 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 handful of major research universities are working on interdisciplinary discovery and development. At the same time, rapid advances in the learning sciences, educational implementation research, and growing agency from disability communities who are increasingly mobilizing is helping to frame a new agenda for the design and support of learning through infancy, childhood, and adolescence.

Faculty Directors

Bio photo of Elizabeth Kozleski

Elizabeth Kozleski

Faculty Co-Director, Learning Differences

Bio photo of Ira Lit

Ira Lit

Faculty Co-Director, Learning Differences


Automated Online Assessment of Reading Ability to Enable Personalized Education

Through our research into the mechanisms of brain plasticity and learning, our group has developed a rapid, automated, online assessment of reading ability that can be administered to children in their own homes through the web-browser by simply sending a URL. The goal of this pilot project is to take this tool and apply it in a large-scale collaborative study with school districts and clinics to characterize learning differences.

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.