Technology and Social Emotional Learning: Navigating Digital Citizenship

It’s a bit of a cliche, but it holds true: technology has truly transformed the world we live in. Our students are part of a generation raised in two ‘spheres’ – physical and digital – and it’s our responsibility to help guide them along. Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which individuals learn to manage their emotions, formulate healthy relationships, and become responsible adults. So where do technology and social-emotional learning overlap? 

In fact, they go hand in hand! The principles that underpin SEL are equally applicable to digital citizenship.

Why is SEL Important?

SEL helps students develop the skills necessary for creating healthy, positive social relationships. It accomplishes this by teaching various core competencies:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship skills
  • Responsible decision-making

If there’s one underlying concept for social and emotional learning, it’s empathy. At its core, developing our students’ ability to empathize is what we’re stressing. The more we foster a sense of social clarity in our students, the better off they’ll be.

Laptop On Desk

What About Digital Citizenship?

The modern world is a digital one. Digital citizenship is (loosely) defined here as the habits, techniques, and strategies we use to engage in this online world.

Digital citizenship covers a wide range of topics and behaviors. It’s not just about teaching students good internet habits like:

  • Choosing strong passwords
  • Analyzing a piece of information’s source
  • Keeping a private online presence

SEL’s lessons are not lost here. The empathy stressed in social and emotional learning is equally applicable in the digital sphere. Fostering social and emotional learning through technology is an excellent way to help prepare our students for the adult world.

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Deciding What’s Real

Let’s consider online news and social media.

More people than ever get their news from online sources. That is not necessarily a bad thing – times change, after all – but it’s important to teach good research habits to our students. Technology and social-emotional learning go hand in hand here!

Part of being a good digital citizen is the ability to understand what information online is ‘real’ or not. It’s an unfortunate reality that we live in a world where people find it increasingly easy to choose the facts they believe!

How Does SEL Help With Deciding What’s Real?

The core competencies taught in SEL – social awareness, communication, and decision-making – help our students determine what’s ‘real’ online. The Internet is a place of many dissenting opinions where anyone with a view has a platform.

The more our students are able to reflect and empathize with the decisions made by others, the better equipped they’ll be to discern fact from fiction.

Online Interactions and Communication

The Internet is inherently anonymous. In and of itself, anonymity is not a bad thing, but it’s not without consequences. Cyberbullying is rapidly taking the place of traditional bullying – something close to half of young people have experienced some form of cyberbullying – and SEL can help.

How Does SEL Help With Online Interactions and Cyberbullying?

The same core values that SEL stresses in personal relationships apply online. Interestingly enough, these values are even more at play in a fully digital and anonymous world. SEL teaches empathy: that sense of respect and sympathy goes a long way in helping our students become better digital citizens.

Happy Children Looking at Laptop

What’s The Takeaway?

As teachers, we have a tendency to treat the physical and digital worlds as two distinct spheres. For our students, that distinction likely does not exist. These are young people who have spent their entire lives with a digital world hanging above their heads, after all!

The skills and capabilities stressed in social and emotional learning are just as applicable online as they are in person. Digital literacy and social-emotional learning are two sides of the same coin.

Online communities are every bit as real as physical ones – the more we teach empathy, communication, and ethical behavior, the better the online world will become.

Real World Learning Matters

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