Social and Emotional Learning with the One World Program


More than 90% of teachers and school administrators believe that social and emotional learning (SEL) is critical to student success (Hart Research Associates, 2017). There is no consensus, however, on how best to promote SEL. Some districts use advisory periods to teach explicit SEL curriculum. Others provide teacher training. Most approaches have struggled as add-ons within schools’ busy calendars. More recently, leaders in the field have increasingly stressed that all learning is social and emotional and requires comprehensive plans to transform teaching and learning (The Aspen Institute, 2019).

Many different stakeholders and institutions will need to act to achieve the vision outlined in the Aspen Institute’s National Commission report. One World Education is taking up the call by intentionally building social and emotional connections into academic content to increase both student engagement and learning. In partnership with researchers at Harvard University, One World Education has designed an exciting new model for embedding explicit social and emotional learning within its online digital argumentative writing curriculum. In contrast to the pre-packaged, high-cost, and time-intensive SEL programs currently available to most schools, One World’s program is adaptable, low-cost, and easy-to-implement but has potential to permeate the school’s educational landscape.

To do this, One World explicitly embeds social and emotional developmental experiences into its digital interface by pairing key concepts with catchy exhortations and vivid visual imagery. This approach builds upon the program’s strengths by establishing the SEL concepts that organically arise in the curriculum and reinforcing them using strategies based on psychological theories of motivation and learning. We hypothesize that this approach will create measurable upticks in students social and emotional learning that translate into academic gains, while requiring less than a minute of students’ time per unit. Educators, who care about students’ social and emotional development but feel overwhelmed by the demands of time-intensive SEL programs, will welcome an intervention aiming for maximum output from minimum input.

Capitalizing on Social and Emotional Learning in the One World Program

The One World Program prepares middle and high school students to research and write college-level argumentative essays. According to a recent World Bank evaluation, over 70% of students using the program experience gains in their writing quality during the course of the 6- to 8-week program. Students’ writing is measured on four specific Common Core Standards. This allows One World to track students’ gains more precisely and quickly than other standardized tests, and the real-time granular data provides an opportunity to evaluate how SEL gains translate into academic learning.

The SEL components embedded within our approach already play an essential role in the program’s success. We believe that the program:

  • boosts student engagement by allowing students to choose their own social justice topics.
  • promotes growth mindsets with a meticulously backward-mapped curriculum, maximizing supports and encouragements for teachers and students.
  • increases students’ self-efficacy in ability to research, write, and present an argumentative essay.
  • develops strong teacher-student relationships through ongoing feedback and conversation around issues students and teachers care about deeply.

The new digital platform presents a unique opportunity to more formally establish and reinforce the SEL concepts One World promotes.

Introducing One World’s “SEL Flash” Strategy

The program’s primary SEL content is delivered as vivid visual images with colorful and emotion-provoking captions in the One World Digital Program at the beginning of each unit. Each unit begins with an overview page introducing the learning objectives. At the top of that page students will see a series of images and a caption. Each caption highlights the SEL concept students will cultivate during that unit (e.g., “Stretch your thinking. You can always learn more!”). The images consist of real students in real classrooms and were taken specifically to show that concept in action. These attention-grabbing images and captions link to a short description expounding on the SEL concept (e.g., growth mindset) and a one-item quiz cementing the content. In general, the captions anticipate the challenges ahead in the course for students and encourage appropriate and effective responses At the conclusion of each unit, a second set of pictures and a complementary caption reiterate and recall the previously taught mini-lesson, reinforcing the delivered message.

The interventions require about 60 seconds of students’ time and systematically link each unit with a related social, emotional and/or cognitive learning goal. In addition to building upon recent findings that brief, cost-effective psychological interventions can improve student outcomes (Gehlbach, 2010; Walton & Dweck, 2009; Yeager & Walton, 2011), we will leverage what every advertiser already knows: Minimal but memorable stimuli can have a disproportionate impact on beliefs and retention.

Evaluating the Impact

The One World Digital Program’s formative and summative ongoing student surveys track students’ growth in four critical areas for students social and emotional learning--growth mindset, self-efficacy, the strength of teacher-student relationships, and student engagement. Thus, the program has the rare opportunity to measure the impact of social and emotional learning within academic coursework and investigate the correlation between SEL gains and academic learning.

To evaluate the causal impact of One World’s SEL strategy on student social and emotional development and academic skills, we will employ randomized controlled experiments. Students will be randomly assigned to see the SEL-focused images and captions or not via the digital platform. Because the digital program is flexible, we will be able to easily iterate upon our findings to maximize the effectiveness of the intervention.

Launching the Research & Development Process

One World is partnering with Harvard University researcher Carly Robinson to engage in a multi-year research and development process to finetune and study how the elements embedded in the One World Digital Program impact student SEL, and how that translates into student learning gains. The trademarked and copyrighted approach will be licensed to other groups to test within their instructional programs. This initiative represents a small but highly concrete step forward for the field in terms of integrated multi-media educational program design.

Targeting Four Specific SEL Areas

These areas of focus were selected based on research about their importance for educational success, as well as knowledge about how students and teachers experience the One World program. We will measure students’ SEL growth with straightforward teacher and student surveys and behavioral measures that assess the health of their social relationships, their engagement with the program, their effort to improve, and their confidence in their ability to succeed academically.

Social-Emotional Learning Focus Area Definition Why
Engagement Students are attentive and passionate during class Increased engagement = higher academic achievement
Growth Mindset Belief that one’s abilities can grow with effort. Students perceive they can impact their school performance. See effort as building block to success. Embrace challenges, learn from criticism, and persist in the face of setbacks.
Self-Efficacy The belief in one’s own ability to succeed with tasks Confidence = Greater Persistence = Higher Achievement
Teacher-Student Relationships Perceptions of support, expectations, care, liking, motivation within the relationship. Also a growing confidence on part of both students and teachers that they can build these relationships Positive teacher-student relationships + confidence → academic and motivational outcomes

Additional background on One World's SEL approach.