Social-Emotional Learning


Social and Emotional Learning


Reciprocal effects of well-being and academic learning

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … repertoire of actions
  • Knowing is … well-adjusted acting
  • Learner is … a social being
  • Learning is … rehearsing appropriate (re)actions
  • Teaching is … coaching




Social-Emotional Learning is defined in a number of ways, but most definitions highlight the intertwinings of one’s ability to monitor and manage emotions, the health of one’s social relationships, and the soundness of one’s academic learning. Proponents typically assert positive reciprocal influences among attitudes, academic performance, behavior, and emotions, leading to advice on coaching on social and emotional skills. Prominent associated discourses include:
  • Companionable Learning (Romary Roberts, 2000s) – advice on environments and relationships for well-being development of very young children (ages 0 to 3 years)
  • Emotional Cognition – one’s ability to notice and make sense of emotions – both others’ (through, e.g., tone and mannerisms) and one’s own
  • Empathy (current interest appears to have been catalyzed by Brené Brown, 2010s) – the ability to tune into others’ emotions. Empathy is sometimes characterized as a capacity for experiencing or mirroring another’s what another is thinking and feeling. Empathy is strongly associated with personal development, social cohesion, and collective well-being. There is evidence that it is, to some extent, a learnable skill – and so the suggestion that Empathy can and should be taught has gained much traction in recent years.
  • Feelings-as-Information Theory (Norbert Schwarz, 1990s) – a perspective that considers the role of moods, emotions, bodily sensations, and other affective responses as information that is brought to bear in one’s decision-making.
  • Friendology – literally, the study/science of friendship. Different commentators have used the term to label guidelines and programs concerned with the development of social competencies
  • Peace Learning Circles (formerly: Tribes Learning Communities) (Jeanne Gibbs, 1970s) – a commercial venture, selling a program based on Social-Emotional Learning aimed at K–12 levels, as well as training for educators in implementing that program
  • Psychoeducational Problems – a category of personal difficulties, most often with a strong emotional component and frequently social in origin, that are sufficient to hinder educational experiences
  • Trauma-Informed Learning (Trauma-Informed Practice) (2010s) ­– Prompted by recent research on extents of childhood trauma and amplified by more-and-more urgent discussions of social and environmental crises, Trauma-Informed Learning focuses on strategies to make schools safe and restorative sites for all learners.


Social-Emotional Learning appears to be more a domain of discussion than a well-defined discourse. While it is supported by some research evidence, most discussions of the matter seem to be oriented more by common sense than empirical studies, reflecting age-old maxims that link happiness, healthiness, and productivity, coupled to reminders of the value of caring, respectful, and safe learning environments. Consequently, the discourse might be best seen as a timely mash-up of other, more focused discourses that address aspects of learner well-being.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences


Status as a Theory of Learning

Social-Emotional Learning ties into the realization that humans are embodied beings – which is to say, it is founded on the premise that the social, emotional, physical, and cognitive are integrated and inseparable elements of one’s being. That said, while it relies on this point, it doesn’t not develop it, and so Social-Emotional Learning cannot be properly described as a theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Almost all treatments of Social-Emotional Learning are concerned with offering pragmatic advice for teachers and educational learners. It is thus perhaps best described as a theory of teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Proponents of Social-Emotional Learning often cite empirical research that shows the positive correlations among aspects of well-being and academic performance. For the most part, that research appears to be associated with other discourses on learning – and so, while the claims are not wrong, the fact that supporting evidence is not specific to Social-Emotional Learning makes it something of a stretch to argue that this mash-up of discourses is fully scientific.


  • Companionable Learning
  • Emotional Cognition
  • Empathy
  • Feelings-as-Information Theory
  • Friendology
  • Peace Learning Circles (formerly: Tribes Learning Communities)
  • Psychoeducational Problems
  • Trauma-Informed Learning (Trauma-Informed Practice)

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2023). “Social-Emotional Learning” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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