Social and Emotional Learning and Soft Skills
USAID is providing new opportunities to systematically design, measure, implement, and understand the impact of programs that build social and emotional skills or soft skills for children and youth.
Both the 2018 USG Strategy on International Basic Education and the 2018 USAID Education Policy emphasize the importance of social and emotional skills or soft skills in assuring the long-term success of children and youth. Through the Strategy and Policy, USAID is providing new opportunities to systematically design, measure, implement, and understand the impact of programs that build social and emotional skills or soft skills for children and youth.
Defining Social and Emotional Learning and Soft Skills
Several sectors, including education, use the umbrella terms “social and emotional skills” and “soft skills” to refer to a broad set of cognitive, social, and emotional competencies that affect how children and youth interact with each other, solve problems, make decisions, and feel about themselves. Navigating the often-overlapping use of these umbrella terms within and across sectors and countries can pose a challenge in programming towards skills development. At USAID, the terms “social and emotional skills” and “soft skills” refer to a set of cognitive skills (e.g., attention focusing and shifting, impulse control, planning, and goal setting), social skills (e.g., perspective taking, prosocial behavior, and conflict resolution), and emotional skills (e.g., emotion knowledge, emotion regulation, and empathy) that shape how individuals interact with one another.
The term “social and emotional skills” is used in the context of formal and non-formal education programming and the term “soft skills” is used in the context of workforce development programs and higher education. “Social and emotional learning,” or SEL, is the process by which individuals learn and apply cognitive, social, emotional, and soft skills needed to succeed in educational settings, work, and the community. Specific social and emotional skills noted by USAID include managing emotions, setting and achieving goals, feeling and demonstrating empathy, developing and maintaining positive relationships, and making responsible decisions. Specific soft skills noted by USAID include higher-order thinking, communication skills, positive self-concept, social skills, and self-control.
Online Learning Module on Social and Emotional Learning
This learning module covers how social and emotional learning (SEL) skills support literacy and numeracy, key milestones in SEL, program examples from Nigeria and Honduras, key research and evidence documents, and the dos and don’ts of SEL.
Access the learning module
- Provides an introductory understanding of what USAID means by the terms “social and emotional skills” and “soft skills” and how to communicate about them.
- Specifies the desired outcomes and quality standards for programming that teach social and emotional skills or soft skills.
- Identifies areas in which evidence and best practices still have gaps, and areas in which we should consider investing in further learning.
The Social Emotional Learning in USAID Basic Education Programs How-To Note aims to provide guidance on how to include and integrate skills-based SEL across the USAID program cycle into basic education programs, which serve children and youth (including adolescents) with a variety of formal and informal education programs, including youth workforce programs.
The Role of Social Emotional Learning and Soft Skills in USAID Policy: Provides an overview of the Policy Brief.
Fostering Resilience During COVID-19 Through Social and Emotional Learning: Explains how educators can deploy existing skills in new ways and/or develop new skills to help students overcome adversity related to COVID-19 and continue to thrive.
Social and Emotional Learning in Crisis and Conflict Settings: Covers how SEL activities can help children who are dealing with the harmful effects of toxic stress.
Why Youth Skills? And Why Measure Them?: Raises awareness of the importance of developing youth’s skills.
Measuring Social and Emotional Learning in Children: Discusses three tools to measure SEL.
Making the Case for Social-Emotional Learning: Outlines the importance of social and emotional skills for success in school, career, and life.
Use these resources to learn more about social and emotional skills and soft skills, including good practices for SEL design and implementation in formal and non-formal settings. These resources also include information for SEL in crisis and conflict settings, soft skills in youth workforce development, and programmatic case studies.
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Systematic Review: The systematic review final report provides an overview of the existing evidence on the effects of social and emotional learning (SEL) and soft skills interventions on social and emotional competencies, academic success, wellbeing, health, and resilience in development and humanitarian settings.
Integration of Social Emotional Learning into Basic Education: Findings from Eight Case Studies: Given the growing demand from the field for more technical support on social and emotional skills or soft skills programming, USAID commissioned NORC at the University of Chicago to complete a series of qualitative case studies to identify best practices for SEL/soft skills integration into USAID’s basic education activities, which include pre-primary, primary, secondary, and youth workforce development activities.
Social Emotional Learning in USAID Basic Education Programs: How-to Note: This How-To-Note continues USAID’s commitment to improving the technical quality of skills-based SEL programs. It aims to provide guidance on how to include and integrate skills-based SEL across the USAID program cycle into basic education programs, which serve children and youth (including adolescents) with a variety of formal and informal education programs, including youth workforce programs.
Best Practices on Effective SEL/Soft Skills Interventions in Distance Learning: The purpose of this review, and it's accompanying annotated bibliography, is to provide evidence on effective, equitable, and inclusive SEL practices that can be delivered via distance learning modalities in USAID-recipient countries. The scope of this review includes formal and non-formal basic, secondary and higher education programs, as well as workforce development programs, in Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, and, to a lesser extent, North America and Europe.
The INEE Collection on Psychosocial Support and Social and Emotional Learning: In emergency situations, education is a major factor in the mental and physical protection of children and can be a key psychosocial intervention. If properly delivered, education can offer learners a safe, stable environment in the midst of crisis, and help restore a sense of normality, dignity, and hope by providing both routine and structured, supportive activities that help build children’s cognitive, social, and emotional skills. The Interagency Network for Education in Emergencies has curated a webpage of learning and research, interventions, and guidance documents that give implementing partners a starting point for intervention design, development, and implementation. This webpage also articulates the relationship between social and emotional learning, wellbeing, and psychosocial support.
USAID's How-To Note on Disability Inclusive Education: Millions of children and youth with disabilities around the world, especially girls with disabilities, are left out of education and workforce development plans due to stigma, poor data collection, and a lack of knowledge on how to make learning and work environments inclusive and accessible. This How-to note is meant to be used by USAID education staff and partners of education projects and activities as a reference document and guide for putting into practice USAID’s commitment to disability inclusive education as well as for Disabled Person’s Organizations advocating for more inclusive programming. Disability inclusive education programs develop students' individual strengths and talents, including improving social and emotional learning outcomes.
Focus: Disability inclusion
CASEL SEL Implementation Tools and Resources: The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, a U.S. based organization, has an online suite of tools that provides guidance and support for districts and schools to implement high-quality, evidence-based social and emotional learning programs in their communities. Their resources span pre-primary through secondary school, include programming with parents or other community members, as well as programming guides focused on administrators. Though they are U.S.-focused, USAID staff and partners may find them useful when looking for concrete examples of implementation approaches.
Focus: Basic Education
ECCN/USAID Social and Emotional Learning Roundtable: The Education in Conflict and Crisis Network convened a policy roundtable discussion. The purpose was to develop recommendations on social-emotional learning (SEL) in crisis-affected context for the new United States’ international education strategy. This event brought together practitioners, researchers, and policymakers to discuss the current evidence, implementation challenges, promising approaches, and innovative SEL interventions. These discussions helped inform the U.S. government’s policy priorities and implementation guidance on how to best improve SEL outcomes for children in crisis. These documents are useful to understand the business case for including social and emotional skills in USAID's education programming.
Focus: Basic Education
YouthPower's Cross Sectoral Skills for Youth Community of Practice: As the evidence base on the importance of soft skills for fostering positive youth outcomes, including workforce success, social and health behaviors, and education, has grown, international youth development programs have increasingly focused on interventions that develop soft skills. YouthPower's Cross-Sectoral Skills Community of Practice is working to better understand the value and impact of soft skills, including how they should be defined and measured, as well as their importance for Positive Youth Development. Their website contains a variety of resources for USAID staff, implementing partners, and researchers, including programming guidance, measurement guidance, and a systematic review of cross-sectoral skills.
Life Skills in Non-formal Contexts for Adolescent Girls in Developing Countries: Non-formal education and training programs are vital avenues for equipping disadvantaged and out-of-school youth, such as girls, with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to cope with, navigate, or transform life’s challenges. This study aims to improve the understanding of the current state of non-formal life skills education and training programs that serve adolescent girls in developing countries. It includes a comprehensive literature review and case studies in Lebanon, Tanzania and Ethiopia, as well as comprehensive recommendations for policy and further research in adolescent girl programming.
The INSPIRE Handbook: Quality education helps children acquire the knowledge, skills and experiences that build resilience and reduce risk factors for violence. The INSPIRE Handbook provides a technical package of seven selected strategies to prevent and respond to violence against children in low- or middle-income countries. The seven INSPIRE strategies are based on policies, practices or programmes that are considered effective, prudent, or promising in addressing violence. The "Education and life skills strategy" includes efforts to support school participation, create safe and supportive school environments, and to build students’ skills in relationships, communication, managing emotions, conflict resolution and self-protection.
Focus: Violence Prevention
The Taxonomy Project: The Explore SEL platform is a product of the Havard EASEL Lab's Taxonomy Project, a multi-year research project that seeks to create an evidence-based system for organizing, describing, and connecting frameworks and skills across the “non-academic” domain. The tools and resources on this site will help you explore, connect, and compare SEL and “non-academic” frameworks and skills in ways that enable you to better understand SEL and related fields, be clear and precise about the skills you want to target, select a framework to guide your SEL work, and much more.
SEL In Higher Education: From Handbook of Social and Emotional Learning Research and Practice: This chapter reviews this literature in the context of SEL and offers suggestions for future research and practice addressing SEL in higher education. USAID staff and partners can use this chapter as a helpful reference when considering how best to reflect the importance of social and emotional skills for all learners across the education spectrum, including in higher education.
Focus: Higher Education
Curated Measurement Resources
Use these resources to learn more about how social and emotional skills and soft skills can and should be monitored and measured in the field, including examples from USAID partner organizations.
SEL Measurement Toolkit for Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey: Provides a library of tools that can be used to assess children and youth's learning and holistic development in crisis and conflict settings in the MENA region. The measures come with guidance regarding their reliability and validity, possibility for adaptation, and specific uses for monitoring, evaluation, assessment, or research.
Youth Power Soft Skill Tool and Tool Inventory: Youth Power Action’s soft skills measurement resource page includes an inventory of 74 soft skill measurement tools. In addition to this inventory, Youth Power also developed a soft skill assessment that measures skills that are relevant to outcomes in multiple sectors including workforce, violence prevention, and family planning and reproductive health.
Youth Power Positive Youth Development Measurement Toolkit: This toolkit, developed by YouthPower Learning, provides guidance and resources for implementers of youth programming in LMICs to integrate PYD principles in their monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems and effectively measure PYD outputs and outcomes within their programs. This online toolkit provides an introduction and a brief overview of the toolkit.
Soft Skills F Indicator: USAID has issued new reporting guidance for Education and Youth Workforce Development. Standard or supplemental indicators relevant to programs aiming to improve social and emotional or soft skills development include:
- EG.6-13 Percent of individuals with improved soft skills following participation in USG-assisted workforce development programs (USAID PIRS available)
- ES.1-51 Number of learning environments supported by USG assistance that have improved safety, according to locally-defined criteria (USAID PIRS available)
- Supplemental-1 Percent of pre-primary learners achieving school readiness (no USAID PIRS yet)
- Supplemental-9 Number of students who have improved social and emotional skills, as locally defined, with USG assistance (no USAID PIRS yet)
Consider the Context: Why and How to Factor Environment in Measuring Social and Emotional Learning and Soft Skills: This brief presents evidence concerning the value of considering the learning environment in the development and measurement of SEL and soft skills in low and middle-income countries (LMICs).
Consider the Context: Recommended Measures for Factoring in the Classroom Environment when Measuring Social and Emotional Learning and Soft Skills: While measures that simultaneously assess the SEL/soft skills environment and SEL/soft skills themselves are not yet readily available, this document provides recommendations on existing measures of the learning environment that are relevant to SEL/soft skills development.