Simple Ways to Bring SEL Practices into Online Learning

Jun 29, 2021

The CASEL logo: a circle of blue interlocking jigsaw pieces with CASEL written across the middleSocial and emotional learning (SEL), also sometimes written as social-emotional learning, is an instructional approach that has been growing in popularity and demand over the last few years. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines SEL as “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 has gained considerable recognition lately as schools and organizations are seeking to mitigate the stress caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic and improve equity and outcomes for all learners and employees.

Setting Learners Up for Success: Five Core Competencies

SEL practices that are woven into curriculum, instruction, and organizational culture create environments that promote well-being and set learners and employees up for success. SEL competencies improve the academic, work, and daily life outcomes of those who possess them. CASEL identifies five main categories of SEL competencies.


The ability to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts
A key component of this competency is recognizing one’s own strengths and weaknesses.


The ability to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations

Social Awareness

The ability to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts

Relationship Skills

The ability to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups

Responsible Decision-Making

The ability to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations

In the workforce, these competencies are soft skills that are valuable to have but are often difficult to teach.

Integrating SEL Practices

So how do you get started integrating some of these SEL competencies in support of your learners? Let’s take a look at a few simple ways to bring SEL practices into online learning for the K–12, higher education, and workforce development environments.


Make time to connect with learners and to connect learners with each other.

Student eating pizza with different adults at school

  • K–12: Have a virtual lunch with your students! Designate a few days each semester, and invite students (and their parents) to join you for a virtual lunch. Spend the time talking about students’ interests and lives, and allow them to make connections with each other over common interests or experiences.
  • Higher ed: Include student connection time at the beginning of the semester. Use breakout rooms for larger classes, and allow students to introduce themselves and visit briefly. This interaction will help add a personal touch to facilitate effective group projects and discussion board conversations. If your class is fully online, consider using a tool such as Flipgrid for virtual introductions and interactions.
  • Workplace development: Create short, informal virtual meetups around outside hobbies such as gardening, cooking, or outdoor activities. Allow participants to share tips and ideas on the topic. When employees are able to connect over personal interests in low-stakes environments, they build trust and camaraderie that positively impacts work-related activities.


A student stands up to present in front of a projected imageProvide options for connecting with learning material (reading, video, audio, hands on, etc.), and give learners the choice to address their own learning strengths and weaknesses.

  • K–12: Design a lesson with multiple pathways to access the content. For example, use an educational video, assign a reading passage, and offer a time when you provide a direct teach. Allow students to choose the method they prefer, then help them reflect on the experience and their own understanding of the material. Repeating this practice throughout the school year helps students build their understand of which learning methods work best for them.
  • Higher ed: Present a variety of ways for students to demonstrate mastery of course objectives. For example, they may write a chapter reflection or discussion post, they may choose to use video or audio for an oral reflection, or they may create a visual such as an infographic or PowerPoint presentation to showcase main takeaways. Give students the opportunity to choose the method that best complements their learning strengths and supports areas of weakness.
  • Workplace development: Provide a variety of ways staff can increase job-related knowledge and skills. Create opportunities for self-paced online learning to also be offered as facilitated sessions incorporating learner discussion and interaction. Or, alternatively, consider ways to offer your synchronous training as a self-paced online option for those who learn best that way.

Social Awareness

Elementary student dressed as John Quincy Adams for a school project

Create opportunities for frequent peer collaboration projects. Collaboration allows for interaction with peers of different backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives. It builds communication skills, increases problem-solving abilities, and creates understanding and acceptance of diversity.

  • K–12: Create group assignments in which students take on the perspectives of different historical or fictional characters. Pose different scenarios, and have groups decide how their assigned character would respond and provide justification explaining their decision.
  • Higher ed: Create group discussion circles throughout the semester following various units of instruction. Present a question or assignment related to the unit content, and ask student groups to talk through their responses, providing justification for their thinking. Consider having groups share a consolidated recap of their discussion. Change the group composition frequently to allow for variety.
  • Workplace development: Provide book studies as learning experiences. Choose a common book or several different books on a common theme (e.g., leadership, productivity, or an industry topic). Have group members meet regularly, using either virtual meetings or online discussion forums, to share their takeaways from and perspectives on the segment of reading for that meeting.

Three women at a workplace table having a discussion

We Can Help You Incorporate Social and Emotional Learning

SEL strategies are a valuable addition to any learning environment and can help all people, from kindergartners to adult learners. These engaging practices contribute to increased motivation and learning and create inclusive learning environments that mitigate stress and help all learners feel supported. If you would like to learn more about how SRM integrates SEL practices into the work we do, we’d love to speak with you.

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