How to Incorporate SEL into any edTech Product

Sean Oakes bio picture Sean Oakes

Over the past decade, the education world has embraced the idea that respect, social awareness, and relationship skills are integral to a student’s success in school.

These qualities are fundamental to a student’s social-emotional learning, or SEL. After all, data shows that when a student doesn’t have to worry about bullying or knows how to manage the pressure of taking a final exam, their ability to learn and retain new information improves.

edTech has zeroed in on this trend, too. There are now a slew of digital products that offer SEL teaching strategies and improve students’ SEL. But if we want to be truly inclusive edTech designers, we can incorporate SEL features into any product—not just ones that are designed specifically to teach social-emotional skills.

This forward-thinking, equitable approach to product design bolsters student engagement, creates more effective learning tools, and addresses customer pain points in a more seamless way.

SEL Design Strategies: How SEL Concepts Map onto Product Features

According to The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, social-emotional learning can be defined by how a student develops the following attributes:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship skills
  • And responsible decision-making

Teachers incorporate classroom activities that promote student growth in these areas all the time, from peer feedback activities to group projects to reflection prompts. Crucially, curricular activities designed to bolster SEL aren’t just taught in isolation. SEL strategies are often incorporated into lessons on any subject, from math to reading to life sciences.

EdTech can draw on this framework, too. By using product features that promote collaboration, community-building, and creative problem-solving, we transform an edTech tool dedicated to subject-area content into a more comprehensive learning opportunity.

SEL techniques deliver more robust outcomes from any edTech application, as well as higher engagement from students. But digital tools with SEL features do more than help students tackle and retain new concepts. These features promote growth through process skills, communication, and collaboration.

For example, if you’re designing a math or physics learning tool, consider incorporating ways for students to visualize, model, or sort data. By giving students multiple ways to analyze and solve a problem, you allow them to apply lesson content in broader contexts. They might even arrive at more unexpected—and brilliant—solutions.

In addition to promoting process skills, products with SEL features have the ability to address how users feel about difficult subjects like math and reading. When we research, design, and test with SEL strategies in mind, our products become more understanding of students’ needs—and more useful to the teachers and students we serve.

Uncovering the Right SEL Features Through User Testing

It’s an edTech designer’s job to understand the emotional mindset of their user, a process often clarified by user testing and research. When you conduct initial research on users, you learn crucial information about their pain points as they try to accomplish tasks within your software.

This stage of the design process also offers opportunities to research and test the SEL components of your digital learning product. How do your users feel about math or reading in general? What’s their preferred learning style? Can you uncover the way students think about math concepts? How might they communicate those concepts to someone like an instructor or a peer?

By researching the emotional mindset of your users during product testing, you can more effectively pinpoint what motivates students to learn. You’ll gain insights into a student’s emotional stumbling blocks around a subject. You’ll also learn more about how students communicate with one another and with their instructors.

These interactions are also valuable to capture in testing environments because they help UX teams understand the complex mechanics behind collaborative group projects. Your UX team will be better positioned to design reflective or multi-step workflows that facilitate group learning in a digital format.

The more you learn about emotional mindsets and group dynamics during the testing process, the easier it will be to incorporate meaningful SEL features into your product. No matter what subject area your product happens to be in, SEL features immediately add value to students and instructors alike.

Learning tools that provide SEL strategies for students build engagement, efficacy, and delight in learning. They also give teachers a better understanding of how their students explain complex ideas and process complicated tasks.

Wondering how to translate SEL concepts into effective product features that students and teachers will love? We’ve got you covered.

Let’s build the future of digital products together.