Social good

Leveling the playing field for students with learning differences

Microsoft employees partnered across teams to develop free learning tools that can help anyone—particularly students with learning differences—improve their reading skills.

One in five students struggles with dyslexia, which can make learning to read frustrating and discouraging. And to further complicate matters, teachers can lose up to 50% of instructional time when trying to use assistive technology. This is what prompted a team of employees to come together for Microsoft’s Hackathon and develop simple tools for OneNote that make reading and writing easier—particularly for students with learning differences.

The result was Microsoft Learning Tools, a set of free tools that are now a part of OneNote, Word, Outlook, OfficeLens, Edge, and beyond—with plans to integrate them across Office and Windows. They implement proven techniques to improve reading and writing for people of all abilities. The Immersive Reader tool reduces visual clutter and highlights individual words to help readers, especially those with dyslexia, focus on content instead of constantly decoding. Perhaps best of all, it works across devices and platforms so that it’s accessible to virtually anyone.

This is a major breakthrough for both students and educators in the classroom, who once had to contend with high costs and steep learning curves with assistive technology.

Lauren Pittman, a resource special education teacher at Holly Springs Elementary School in Georgia, was struck by how quickly her students were able to grasp the technology and start delving into the content. Over the course of a school year, her students’ progress surpassed her wildest dreams—particularly for a 10-year-old student who came to her reading four words per minute.

“For the longest time, I struggled with how to help him. But when we got the Learning Tool with the Immersive Reader, he went to 22 words per minute,” says Pittman. “I never thought in one calendar school year that we would even get into the double digits.”

Looking forward to the next school year, Pittman sees boundless possibilities. “It’s really transformed [my students’] educational experience. I don’t know what next year looks like, I don’t know what our possibilities are. The sky’s the limit.”

Learn more about Microsoft’s Learning Tools and try out the Immersive Reader