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What is a Learning Specialist?

January 9, 2023

Some students are natural learners, soaking up all the information presented to them in school with seemingly minimal effort. For other students, learning may be more of a challenge. This has little to do with intelligence or aptitude, and a lot to do with learning disabilities, distractions at home, or behavioral problems that impede education. 

For this reason, many schools and education systems enlist learning specialists; educators who focus their efforts on those students who are falling behind academically. Those interested in understanding what a learning specialist is and what it might look like to pursue a career in the field should consider advanced degrees in education and school administration.

What Does a Learning Specialist Do?

Learning specialists are educators, but rather than working with the general student population, they focus on specifically helping students who struggle in the classroom. Most often, these are students who exhibit either learning disorders or different types of psychiatric or behavioral issues. The learning specialist may work with students individually or in small groups.

Learning Specialist Duties and Responsibilities

The specific responsibilities associated with this position may vary from school to school, or from education system to education system. However, some of the most common learning specialist duties include:

  • Helping students develop academic plans or frameworks that make it easier for them to learn, and to prevent them from falling behind in their studies
  • Educating teachers as well as parents regarding the different types of learning disabilities and challenges that exist
  • Assessing members of the student body to determine which, if any, have learning obstacles and might need extra academic support
  • Updating teachers and parents about the progress of those students who have been struggling or falling behind
  • Providing teachers with resources to support students and promote learning within their classrooms

How to Become a Learning Specialist

For those considering what to do with different types of education degrees, becoming a learning specialist can be a rewarding path. Several steps are involved in becoming one.

Earn a Degree in Education

An important part of being a specialist in this field is gaining exposure to the latest educational models and paradigms. In addition, having a background in education helps earn credibility with other teachers and school administrators. As such, earning a bachelor-level degree in education is required, and moving forward with a more advanced degree is often recommended. An academic background in social work may also be useful in this field.

Obtain a Teaching License

As is the case with many other educators, learning specialists are licensed, which means they must apply for a teaching license at the state level. Requirements vary by state but usually include the completion of an exam. Educators, including specialists, must also renew their licenses every few years, at an interval determined by the state.

Gain Experience in the Classroom

To succeed as a learning specialist, it is important to gain experience working in many types of classrooms spanning different ages and grade levels. In addition, working with different learning philosophies or classroom management styles can be helpful.

Develop Key Skills

Through a combination of classroom learning and hands-on experience, aspiring learning specialists can cultivate the core competencies to positively impact students’ lives. Essential skills in this profession include the following.

  • Strong interpersonal and communication skills, encompassing both communication with students as well as teachers, administrators, and parents
  • Problem-solving skills, including the ability to analyze potential learning obstacles and develop pragmatic solutions
  • Extensive knowledge of different pedagogical methods, child development principles, and educational philosophies
  • A passion for helping those in need, and in particular a passion to support students who are struggling academically

Average Learning Specialist Salary

According to December 2022 data from the compensation website Payscale, the median annual learning specialist salary for this position is approximately $60,737.

Several factors can affect compensation, including years of classroom experience, level of education, and geographic location. One of the best ways to earn a competitive salary is to earn an advanced education, such as a master’s degree.

Support Students in Need

For some students, academic work comes easily. For others, learning disabilities, psychiatric problems, and other obstacles can lead to a higher level of challenge and frustration. Thankfully, more and more schools hire specialists who can help struggling students catch up and excel academically.

One of the best ways to enter this rewarding field is to pursue a formal background in education. American University’s online Master of Education (MEd) in Education Policy and Leadership provides the knowledge to pursue many educational roles. These include anti-racist educators, student advocates, and beyond. 

Learn more about how to become a learning specialist with an advanced degree from American University.