Online SEL – A Good Idea?

It seems like more and more education is going online. Certainly, the pandemic launched this trend in 2020 by necessity. I am a strong supporter of using technology to facilitate learning when it is appropriate and when it is safe. As a social-emotional learning (SEL) program developer, I am concerned about SEL programs being delivered to our youth online. Here are the arguments I hear:

Isn’t online isolation part of the socialization problem?

It begs the question: why would we choose to encourage our young children to spend more of their time in front of an electronic device when that very device is part of the problem? Numerous studies have explored the impact of electronic device use, specifically the use of social media on adolescents, and the findings indicate that isolation and depression seem to correlate with its use. (Child Mind Institute, 2023) Now studies are being conducted with younger children such as one by Georgetown University to examine how digital media impacts their social competence and emotional regulation. (Georgetown Univ, 2024) We look forward to these results.

From my perspective, it seems counterintuitive to try to expand one’s social-emotional awareness and skills in isolation. Online learning is typically performed alone. An exception would be high school or college-aged young adults engaged in a program where they connect by Zoom or some other virtual interface. This could be a very enriching experience for more mature youth. It could even bring together young people from around the world for a more international experience.

I believe children, ages 12 and under, need to interact in person to experience body and facial cues and to get more immediate feedback from a trained facilitator or teacher. They need touching experiences and interactive learning

As SEL practitioners, we should think carefully before choosing an online learning medium for social-emotional learning. We should ask if our objective is for our convenience or meeting a budget threshold. We must ask what is the best way to increase the SEL experience for the children we are responsible for guiding.

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Child Mind Institute, C. Miller, et. al. “Does Social Media Use Cause Depression?” Oct. 2023

Georgetown University, R. Barr, Ongoing 2023,  RePORT ⟩ RePORTER (nih.gov)