Character Education versus Social Emotional Learning: The Difference Explained

Social Emotional Learning versus Character Education: we often hear both terms being used, but how are they different? According to the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University there are five main skills that students learn through social and emotional learning (SEL).  They are:

  1. Social skills
  2. Social awareness Skills
  3. Social decision-making and problem-solving skills
  4. Self-awareness skills
  5. Self-management skills

Character education promotes the following:

  1. Moral sensitivity
  2. Moral commitment
  3. Ethical reasoning
  4. Personal Growth

Per Committee for Children, although often used interchangeably, character education and SEL are not the same. An important difference between SEL and character education is that some character education approaches are focused on developing morally responsible youth, and that is not the defining feature of SEL. It is significant to make that distinction. Teaching morals and values can raise concerns about whether they can be changed, and whether instruction is the responsibility of families or schools. Giving youth the knowledge and skills for being self-aware, developing relationships, and making responsible decisions so they can successfully navigate the challenges in life is what SEL is all about.

The SEL process, as outlined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), helps “children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” Teaching the skills around these core competencies—self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, relationship skills, and social awareness—is central to SEL.

For more information about SEL standards, please contact us.

By: Gina Faulk
General Manager