Learning Differences


The Challenge


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.


What we're doing


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.

Please read the What we fund page for more information on our programme priorities and our definitions of key terms for more information.


Please read the What we fund page for more information on our programme priorities and current grant information.




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

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Educators should be prepared for, and have the tools to respond to, diverse learner profiles in order to better serve students with learning differences in general education environments.
  • Parents should have the knowledge to understand their child’s unique learner profile and the tools to advocate for him/her.
  • Education systems should define student success using accountability frameworks with multiple indicators of academic performance as well as measures of social and emotional wellbeing, persistence and engagement.