Social and Emotional Learning

Revamping Social and Emotional Learning: How Technology Can Change Soft Skills Education

During formative years, it’s important to extend students’ learning beyond just typical academics. Social and emotional learning (SEL) helps students develop emotional intelligence and create long-lasting impact outside of the classroom. It’s a phrase thrown around a lot these days. But what does it mean?

According to The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Research from CASEL shows that investment in SEL has led to 13 percent gains in academics, improved classroom behavior, and better stress management for students.

SEL provides benefits for the classroom, as well as preparing students to successfully enter the workforce after school. Through integrated instruction, educators can incorporate SEL into typical subject lessons, like language arts, history, or math. There’s not one specific method to teach SEL, and as technology rapidly advances, education technology provides the opportunity for immersive lesson plans. By harnessing new technology, educators can teach students about empathy, relationship building, and goal setting to make good and achievable decisions. SEL can help to students build empathy in the classroom, and later, in the workplace.

Tri-Town School Union, a school district in Massachusetts, is changing the traditional poster and tri-fold end of unit presentations to instead incorporate projects using technology. Sixth grade students at Howe-Manning School are learning about Syria and the Middle East by putting the geography in context to a real world issue: the Syrian refugee crisis. Students use low and high-tech means to create simulated homes for refugees.

According to Steve Guditus, director of educational technology for the Tri-Town district, technology allows students to create and learn in a real-world context.

“If we take a look at information that’s been in a book before, in an encyclopedia, on a website before, we don’t want students to just know that information,” he said. “We want students to connect it to an authentic experience and an authentic problem that exists in the world today.”

The district worked collaboratively with digital learning specialists, curriculum leaders and classroom teachers to rethink how students were thinking about Syria. This type of teaching emphasizes project-based learning, which is an important aspect of SEL. Steve Guditus said using a real world issue as an example incorporates empathy and allows students to understand the lesson further.

“They had the context of a real world problem to understand why they were learning about Syria, and why they were learning about math—the cost of different supplies—and how it would impact their life as someone who lives in New England, in Massachusetts, in the United States,” he said.

So how are K12 educators supporting social and emotional learning? Panorama Education provides one solution.

Panorama Education currently serves about 500 school districts and about 7 million students. With Panorama technology, educators can easily track students’ progress with SEL. Panorama provides surveys to educators so they can track where students struggle or thrive in categories like “Self-Management,” “Growth Mindset,” “Sense of Belonging,” and “Social Awareness.”

Aaron Feuer, CEO and co-founder of Panorama, said he wanted the company to focus on SEL because he believes it is key to helping students succeed in school.

“We realized that one, social [and] emotional learning is the foundation for academic success,” he said. “If you don’t think you can get smarter, it’s going to be hard for you to learn math, for example.”

“And then two, what we thought every student had to graduate high school with wasn’t just English and math proficiency. We believe students actually need really deep social and emotional skills. And that led us to say, ‘Look, we want to really focus deeply, so that SEL is as core a part of school as other academic areas.'”

Panorama also encourages students and teachers to build relationships with one another, a core initiative of SEL. By tracking students’ SEL progress, educators can target areas that individual students and entire classes need to work on. The technology creates the opportunity for intervention when needed, and the ability to provide personalized emotional support to students. Aaron Feuer said that by providing this support early, SEL can help students achieve their goals throughout their entire lives.

“Social [and] emotional learning captures sort of all of the core interpersonal, motivational, emotional skills that a person needs to be successful in school and then in life beyond school,” he said. “I would argue that social [and] emotional learning then becomes a core part of what every person needs to succeed in the workplace.”

Social and Emotional Learning

Photo via Panorama Education website

Technology can also be used to enhance special needs education. Brain Power Autism System (BPAS) uses augmented reality to engage autistic learners and teach them SEL.

The “Empower Me” augmented reality system runs on a new version of Google Glass. The glasses provide autistic children with a new view of the world through the screen. The system provides real-time coaching for children, allowing them to see and hear special feedback depending on the situation. The digital coach prompts the student to recognize emotions from the people in front of them, while also overcoming the challenge and anxiety of making eye contact and reading faces.

By focusing on understanding emotions, the system incorporates SEL. Plus, the student gets points from the system when they learn social-emotional and cognitive skills. The system teaches them life-long skills that they can apply in school and the workforce, which is a goal and benefit of SEL.

By focusing on SEL and how emotions can be understood and processed, new technologies change learning and prioritize life skills that can be carried throughout a student’s entire life.

While xR in the classroom is still in the early stages, as technology advances, there is more opportunity for xR to help enhance SEL teaching.

Companies are tapping into SEL strategies and implementing technology to help build empathy and create more effective work. Fidelity Bank teamed up with STRIVR, an immersive training company, to create a VR experience where Fidelity associates can experience the lives of the customers they’re speaking with. Using a headset, the associate can be transported into the homes of customers to get a better understanding of their lives, struggles and frustrations. This technology builds empathy, and allows for better and more effective customer service.

Social and Emotional Learning

Photo via FidelityLabs

To learn more about other uses of extended reality in education and training, join us at xR in EDU on October 22.

Mariel Cariker

Mariel Cariker

Mariel is a Boston-based freelance writer and audio producer who has covered news, technology and innovation for public media groups including WBUR and WGBH. Outside of work, she performs and writes spoken word poetry and voraciously reads true crime novels.