Fostering Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in a Digital Ecosystem

By Divya Sridhar, Ph.D., Policy Analyst at McGraw-Hill Education

Education policy is moving in a direction to incorporate social and emotional learning (SEL) into curriculum, shaping schools’ plans and priorities. To help build a stronger SEL foundation, a diverse array of education stakeholders, including technology partners, schools, researchers, and governmental entities can work together in a community effort to identify ways to support provisions relating to SEL in the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The education technology ecosystem is shaping the 21st century classroom in many ways — by providing tools, resources, 1:1 tutoring and learning in a more efficient and effective manner, and personalizing the learning experience for students. As a learning science company, it’s our job to think about how digital curriculum can further students’ ability to master “hard” skills and educational content, but also how resources incorporate students’ mastery of “soft” skills, as these skills can shape an individual’s decision making, self-esteem, interpersonal interactions, and much more.

By incorporating digital solutions that support SEL in curriculum and making this an organic part of their teaching practices, teachers can help students build essential skills they can use inside and outside the classroom. Digital and adaptive technology can free up the time teachers are currently spending grading and analyzing print-based materials, and help teachers identify each unique learner’s strengths and weaknesses, similar to the experience students receive in tutoring. To make the most of digital solutions, teachers may undergo a learning curve. Therefore, district leaders need to make professional development opportunities accessible, to ensure teachers are comfortable and up-to-date with the latest processes.

Foundations, think tanks, and nonprofits have also been particularly engaged in studying, funding, and piloting programs focused on SEL skills. More can be done through continued research, best practices, and a better understanding of how SEL impacts communities across varying geographies and demographics. Together, the various education stakeholders in the community can work together to make progress in making SEL a pervasive part of students’ learning continuum.

Gathering insights through learning science, the education community is engaging in a partnership so that teachers and students, technology vendors, and researchers can together grow and learn in a constant feedback loop. To support these efforts, it is of utmost importance to provide flexibility in teaching practices, an open mind toward innovation, and an eye for identifying opportunities for growth.

We believe that education policy is heading in the right direction by incorporating SEL, and we hope that the rest of the education community can promptly follow suit, leading the charge to build a better tomorrow for our nation’s children. For best practices in SEL built from the science of learning, check out our Guiding Principles of SEL guide, authored by our Applied Learning Sciences team:

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