Learning to make a world of difference

Social and emotional learning is central to education’s future, says SMART Technologies’ Peter Claxton

While today’s students possess skills like no generation before them, they also face challenges others never have. Technology is part of this challenge and, potentially, provides the solution. As we continue to drive learning towards usable lifetime skills and preparing students for viable futures in a technology-based society, schools must support group learning, collaboration and the more social aspects of education that will give pupils the skills to succeed.

Visiting and talking to teachers and students across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, I see a huge appetite for helping students to discover and develop their own greatness, and technology is clearly now seen as central to that. Equally, technology and social media have given rise to challenges, inside the classroom and beyond, that require a realignment of skills and a greater emphasis on an individual’s thoughts, emotions and behaviour.

Despite widespread access to education in most parts of the world, today’s children have massive variability in their skills, reflecting the context and environment in which they grow up. However, in many cases, school may be the only place where deficiencies in a child’s self-development can be addressed before they become an active member of society.

According to The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), social and emotional skills are the abilities that regulate one’s thoughts, emotions and behaviour, and differ from cognitive abilities. They impact how people manage their emotions, perceive themselves and engage with others, rather than indicating their raw ability to process information.

When used effectively, technology can assist students with social and emotional learning (SEL), as it encourages positive social interaction, allowing for critical appraisal of others in an encouraging way and fostering open-mindedness, empathy and self-awareness. Students working collaboratively not only learn to communicate and cooperate with others, but also how to effectively contribute to a common goal. Through SEL-focused pedagogy and collaborative technology, reticent team members are inspired to voice ideas, while those extroverted in their demeanour learn to listen to other perspectives.

Recently visiting several schools, I was struck by how gamification activities brought social and emotional learning to scale. I watched children show improved engagement and confidence through the personalisation of the activity; also, through examining their own – and their peers’ – progress and understanding of the lesson.

This was a massive mind shift for some schools. Only a few years ago they had been described by Ofsted as having ‘dusty’ teaching practices. Technology was now central to driving positive change and encouraging peer-to-peer collaboration.

Reflecting on some EU Digital research projects my team and I have been involved in made me conclude that technology was providing a solution. Nevertheless, achieving scalable technology implementation with SEL will require many additional stakeholders – policy makers, academics, teachers, the commercial sector – to work collaboratively.

Peter Claxton

The impact of social and emotional skills on life outcomes

When it comes to navigating life, there are endless potential outcomes concerning academic achievement, job performance, health and personal wellbeing. Social and emotional skills influence experiences and achievements, and cognitive skills are fundamentally important in a technology-based society.

A recent OECD study looked at five primary social and emotional skills to determine which are the strongest indicators of success, settling on open-mindedness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, extraversion, and agreeableness. While there is longstanding value in academic skills, the benefit of a balanced personal skill set is still under-valued.

According to the OECD, findings from the General Education Development (GED) program indicated that GED recipients who dropped out of school and passed the GED test had “very similar levels of cognitive skills to regular school leavers, but poorer social and emotional skills”. When measuring their social and emotional skills, the study found they had more in common with school dropouts than graduates. It was also discovered that a lack of SEL regularly correlated with undesirable life outcomes, such as an increased chance of unemployment, divorce, bad health, imprisonment, violent and criminal behaviour.

For too long, education systems have focused on the literacy and numeracy sides of education; it will soon become apparent both cognitive and social and emotional skills are necessary for a truly successful life.

Numerous school systems across the globe explicitly call out the importance of developing the whole child within policy documents, yet fail to provide resources, support and training to assist teachers’ transition from a subject-based curriculum to competency-based.

The OECD states that subjective wellbeing can be defined as having a positive mental state; when reviewing the impact of SEL on adolescents, the results mirror findings from adult samples and indicate more ties between SEL skills and life satisfaction than between cognitive skills and life satisfaction by nearly 10 percent. Emotional stability appears to be the most relevant of the top SEL skills that correlate to life satisfaction, with consciousness and extraversion showing relevance in job and life satisfaction.

By implementing a pedagogy that incorporates and values social and emotional skills, society will work toward building a community of better, more adaptable, open-minded and well-rounded citizens.

The brilliance of the OECD research is that it lights a fire and is an instigator for thought, conversation, and action; specifically, shifting gears in policy to focus on not only cognitive skill development but on the whole child development – it’s all about creating citizens who are better able to contribute to society.

A key challenge is how we, as education leaders, seek more opportunities to encourage SEL in students and teachers. As parents, educators and policymakers learn about the power of SEL strategies and their proven success, the relevance and urgency of implementation increases. As the education world collaborates on this transition and shares best practices for modernising their pedagogies to incorporate SEL, we will forge a more well-rounded education system and produce more socially responsible and aware citizens, better prepared to work together to create better communities, nations and ultimately, world.

Peter Claxton is Senior Manager, Training and Education Solutions at SMART Technologies Inc. To learn more, visit www.smarttech.com


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