Student Learning Outcomes & SEL: What You Need to Know

When looking at ways to support student goals, a social and emotional learning (SEL) program may not be the first thing to come to mind. However, an increasing body of research supports the role SEL plays in long-lasting academic achievement. Let’s get a better understanding of the connection between student learning outcomes, academic achievement, and SEL. 

What are Student Learning Outcomes

Student learning outcomes are statements about students’ skills and abilities that they should be able to demonstrate upon completing a learning experience. The measurement of these skills typically follows the SMART goal framework of being specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. When a student is in the process of the learning experience, they are working toward developing the skill described in a learning outcome.

You may be familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. This hierarchical model classifies learning objectives based on complexity and specificity. Student learning outcomes can be set using this framework to realistically benchmark students’ skill development. As students’ skill level increases, educators can create new learning outcomes using the foundation of abilities they have already obtained. 

How Does SEL Promote Student Learning Outcomes and Academic Achievement

What role does SEL play in students achieving learning goals? SEL is in direct alignment with reaching academic goals. CASEL says that SEL is the process through which we acquire and apply knowledge, skill, and attitude toward developing healthy identities, managing emotions, achieving goals, displaying empathy, establishing and maintaining supportive relationships, and making responsible decisions. 

When thinking about skill acquisition, the fundamental abilities needed to reach student learning outcomes are through having strong social and emotional skills. For example, an outcome for high schoolers may be something like, “Student can develop a presentation on a time in history and deliver the presentation orally.” To achieve this outcome, students need to have self-management and goal-directed behavior skills to complete a task assigned to them. This outcome includes an academic benchmark and the required social skills needed to complete the task. 

When students have these skills, they feel empowered. Strength-based SEL, in particular, focuses on what they can do and uses that as motivation toward further academic achievement. 

Short-Term Impacts of Integrating SEL

SEL assists students in developing skills they need for lifetime success, but there are also short-term benefits of integrating SEL. A 2017 meta-analysis of more than 80 SEL interventions for K-12 students found that the students engaging in SEL performed 13% higher than their peers academically.

A typical misconception is the either/or relationship between SEL and academics when really it is symbiotic. When districts build SEL into their academic instruction, it builds students’ learning by giving them the skills they need to focus, self-regulate, or ask for help. Improving social and emotional competence advances skill acquisition while also ensuring students understand how to be contributing members in the classroom. 

The qualitative impacts of SEL also contribute to the quantitative benefits like academic achievement. Students who regularly participate in SEL are more likely to have positive social behaviors. Improved attitudes can lead to more meaningful relationships with educators and peers, further encouraging academic achievement. A foundational understanding of SEL provides students with the context for their learning, equipping them to reach their goals.

Long-Term Impacts of Integrating SEL

SEL also has long-term impacts on students. SEL takes accomplishing K-12 student learning outcomes and turns those acquired skills into future-ready adults who can successfully collaborate, think critically, and overcome obstacles. This amplifies school-based academic achievements and turns the skills obtained into actionable and practical abilities after graduation. 

In a 2020 analysis of more than 140,000 job ads, communication skills, collaboration, and problem-solving were all in high demand by employers.

The Top Four Skills Employers Look For? SEL-Based Ones.

  1. Collaboration (relationship skills)
  2. Problem-solving (goal-directed behavior)
  3. Communication skills (social awareness)
  4. Critical thinking (decision-making)

When we think about the long-term goal of making student learning outcomes, are they not all based in skill development, more specifically transferrable skills that equip students to succeed in higher education or the workforce? Encouraging self-management in students so they can keep to a deadline and submit homework on time is just like what will be expected of them in college or when working on projects as an employee. Students with strong social and emotional skill sets are more likely to build authentic relationships, understand their strengths, and have the resiliency required to overcome challenges. All of which are crucial skills for being future-ready.