Since the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) introduced the term “social and emotional learning (SEL)” to education over two decades ago, the SEL field has evolved tremendously. Recently, the organization announced updates to its definition of SEL to better reflect the latest research and findings.
As districts across the U.S. face a heightened sense of urgency to expand SEL curriculum, it’s important to understand these changes and how schools can continue to best meet recommendations to help students meet their potential. Online SEL curriculum remains an effective method for teaching SEL skills under the updated CASEL framework. And when implemented appropriately, online SEL curriculum can go beyond benefitting the individual student to growing relationships and culture that support school climate and safety.
CASEL’s Updated SEL Definition: What’s Changed?
As CASEL president and CEO Karen Niemi said in the webinar announcing the changes, the new updates aim to “…offer clarity around what is necessary to achieve the vision for SEL.” The new definition takes into consideration how SEL is being implemented in schools, and more clearly emphasizes the role of SEL in promoting equity in education.
Below is CASEL’s revised definition of SEL. Updates are highlighted in orange.
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an integral part of education and human development. SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.
SEL advances educational equity and excellence through authentic school-family-community partnerships to establish learning environments and experiences that feature trusting and collaborative relationships, rigorous and meaningful curriculum and instruction, and ongoing evaluation. SEL can help address various forms of inequity and empower young people and adults to co-create thriving schools and contribute to safe, healthy, and just communities.
How does online SEL align with this new definition?
It may seem counterintuitive to build relationship skills online, but virtual learning has been proven to be effective. Long before the pandemic made remote learning the norm, online SEL curriculum has been utilized by districts to build SEL skills among both students and staff. Rather than thinking of online SEL as a “temporary fix,” it can be a viable long-term solution—one that can meet the guidelines established by CASEL.
Using CASEL’s updated definition of SEL, let’s break down how Kognito’s online SEL curriculum aligns.
SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities…
Knowledge can be taught. Applying that knowledge requires practice. The ultimate goal of changing behavior requires a shift in attitudes—that’s where the biggest challenge can be.
“The literature in psychology has shown that knowledge does not predict behavior; attitudes predict behavior,” Dr. Glenn Albright, Kognito’s Director of Research said in an interview about survey design and evidence-based training.
Giving students the right online SEL curriculum can give them the opportunity to practice their new knowledge in order to build their skills and change their attitudes.
At Kognito, we designed our Friend2Friend simulation to give students private practice in a safe space (online) to go at their own pace and connect with a virtual friend about their mental health. The experience is based on gaming logic with an evidence-based approach around how to identify when a friend is in distress, what to say, and how to connect with a trusted adult. By practicing a conversation with low stakes and avoiding the awkwardness of an in-person role-play with a peer, students truly get to apply what they are learning to change behavior.
Online SEL can easily be integrated into health curriculum, in addition to language arts, math, or social studies. Many of our clients choose to integrate SEL curriculum into their health programs. And Kognito will be expanding our offerings in the SEL health space, which currently includes Friend2Friend with a mental health focus. More information will be available soon on applying SEL skills towards the topics of violence prevention and substance use prevention.
…manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals…
Our online SEL curriculum has learning objectives surrounding social-emotional skills and goal setting. This can help learners gain confidence to better navigate real-life situations. For example, once a student identifies a personal goal around substance use, they can then better analyze risks and focus on refusal skills. And just as importantly, they can build on those behaviors and attitudes to help a friend and communicate with an adult.
Kognito’s new online SEL learning simulation on alcohol and other drugs has a large focus on goal-setting and allows students to think about and exercise achieving their goals based on personal values and what motivates that student.
…feel and show empathy for others…
One of the biggest obstacles in teaching empathy is that learning how to effectively listen is hard. Conversation is an important tool for learning not only what to say, but when and how to listen. Students engaging in our simulations must stop and focus on what their virtual classmate is saying, giving them practice listening—without distractions.
In fact, virtual humans can provide better practice than traditional videos or workshops. Research shows that virtual humans help engage greater rapport as defined by increased empathy, trust, attention, and understanding due to the environment, and virtual human verbal, and non-verbal communication strategies.
…establish and maintain supportive relationships…
Once again, conversation is an important learning tool here. It can help develop relationship skills on an individual level (such as with peers), as well as at a school level (such as learning to go to a trusted adult when needed). These relationship skills are challenging to learn through videos, workshops, or lectures. The interactivity and hands-on practice that online SEL can provide is hugely beneficial.
In the context of healthy identities and supportive relationships, Kognito’s simulations place emphasis on empowering students to build both peer-to-peer connection as well as connecting with a trusted adult. These skills include not only how to bring up these discussions, but knowing why and when to have those important conversations.
…and make responsible and caring decisions.
Practice, practice, practice! Kognito’s simulations enable students to practice making decisions, and then shows the impact of those decisions. A virtual coach provides feedback to help them make better choices moving forward.
“I liked how it [online SEL simulation] gave you a lot of different options on what to say. Makes me more prepared if this were to happen to one of my friends.” – Student who completed Kognito’s Friend2Friend simulation
SEL advances educational equity and excellence through authentic school-family-community partnerships to establish learning environments and experiences that feature trusting and collaborative relationships, rigorous and meaningful curriculum and instruction, and ongoing evaluation.
Kognito’s simulations use an evidence-based approach based on best practices in gaming design and principles of psychology. Ongoing evaluation is seamless with online SEL through the implementation of pre- and post-simulation surveys. In addition, Kognito SEL simulations include not just the simulation for students, but also lesson planning tools such as discussion guides to enhance the learning experience in the classroom.
SEL can help address various forms of inequity and empower young people and adults to co-create thriving schools and contribute to safe, healthy, and just communities.
Kognito technology adapts to meet learners where they are, regardless of previous knowledge, and adapts to give tailored feedback to every student. Collectively, when students feel empowered and motivated to look out for each other and navigate their own paths by making healthy decisions, these individual actions add up to a healthier school community.
Implementing online SEL curriculum in your district
Incorporating SEL curriculum for middle and high school students can benefit individual student performance, school climate, and help lead to positive outcomes both in and out of the classroom. If you’re looking to adopt online SEL curriculum that aligns with CASEL’s refined definition of SEL, we’d love for you to take a demo of Friend2Friend—our online mental health and suicide prevention simulation—to see if it’s the right fit.
Explore more articles from the Kognito blog:
- Mental Health Lesson Plan Ideas for Middle & High School Classrooms
- Kognito in the Classroom: How A New Mexico High School is Preparing Its Ninth Graders to Navigate Tough Conversations
- SEL Curriculum for High School and Middle School Students – That They’ll Actually Like
- Mental Health Education for Students in Alabama
- Remote Learning that Supports Student Wellbeing