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Can Social and Emotional Skills Be Taught?

In this research, we explore the challenges of teaching and learning social and emotional skills in the classroom. Based on interviews with 40 college instructors and 26 college students across Canada, we provide recommendations for education leaders and policy-makers to improve how these skills are learned and taught.

Are students graduating with the social and emotional skills that employers expect of them? What is the biggest barrier to students learning these skills in college? What effect did virtual learning have on the teaching and learning social and emotional skills?

Read the issue briefing to get our full analysis.

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Key findings

While social and emotional skills (SES) can be taught in a college classroom setting, there are significant barriers that can get in the way. Challenges include ambiguous definitions of SES, limited inclusion of these skills in curricula, rigid teaching contexts and strategies, and online learning.

There’s little consensus among researchers and practitioners on how to best define and measure SES in the classroom. This can cause confusion—it’s tough for instructors to teach and evaluate, and students to learn, without a clear skills taxonomy.

For SES to be effectively learned, instructors and students need to acknowledge diverse SES strengths. Recognizing that there are different ways of expressing these skills is important for students to feel that their skillsets are equally represented and valued. Students should feel empowered to explore different viewpoints, question traditional forms of knowledge, and share their unique experiences.

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