Past Events

Addressing the Social and Emotional Aspects of Adult Learning

How do emotions dictate our actions, impact our ability to make informed logical decisions, and ultimately, determine how (much) and what we learn? Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) has become a best practice for education around the world because it recognises that life is often not left outside the classroom when the student comes in to learn. Past traumas, challenging and difficult circumstances, and even life itself come into the classroom with every student. How do learning environments affect students, even those not even aware of the influence that emotions exercise on their choices and behaviour?

Giselle Sim, a Vocational Education and Training research fellow at the International Specialised Skills Institute in Melbourne, Australia, will be addressing these questions in her talk.

In her work, Sim has sought to show how emotions make up our ‘inner uncharted worlds’. Important as emotions are, however, we live in such times and environments where feelings are often deemed inconvenient, even irrelevant, to navigating modern daily life. Yet, the more we suppress our emotions, the worse the effects will be. Sim argues that understanding and safely expressing emotion is critical to clearing our learning system of hindrances.

Date: 2 October 2023, Monday
Time: 8.00 pm – 9.30 pm
Venue: Penang Institute, 10 Brown Road, 10350 George Town

About Giselle Sim

Sim’s fellowship looks to blending wellbeing and learning in the classroom for adult learners, and to different ways to teaching and engaging adults as effectively as possible. She has spent the past several years supporting education and life outcomes for adults struggling in one of the lowest socioeconomic districts in Australia.


On 2 October 2023, Giselle Sim, a research fellow from the International Specialised Skills Institute (ISSI) in Melbourne, Australia, delivered a talk at the Penang Institute on the importance of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL).

An anthropologist by training, Sim spoke of how emotions make up all learners’ ‘inner uncharted worlds’. But despite their definitive role in our understanding and navigating the demands and challenges of modern daily living, emotions are treated as inconvenient and irrelevant, or worse, as anathema to learning and decision-making. Yet, it would be irrational to assume that students leave their lives – including past and present traumas as well as current challenging and difficult circumstances – outside their classrooms. Rather than suppressing our emotions, Sim explained, educators should impart the skills and knowledge needed by their students to redress the social and emotional difficulties they face just as much as, if not more than, knowledge and skills of mathematics, the sciences, computer and information systems, and so on.

Drawing from her experiences as a teacher in her hometown of Geelong, Victoria, to students coming from vulnerable communities, Sim cited examples of having to address and resolve issues, challenges, and problems that her wards faced, from food shortage and lack of clean clothes to wear, to housing instability and vicarious trauma, to domestic violence, slavery, and human trafficking. The Cloverdale Community Centre she works with that provides ‘Learn Local’ pre-accreditation skills to non-skilled learners, has developed mechanisms to deal with social and emotional challenges. These include ‘well-being teams’ and ‘triage assistants’ who provide specialist and supportive resources so that subject educators are not alone in dealing with disruptive and dangerous incidents. Despite such help, educators such as Sim still predominantly are left to their own devices in terms of evidence-based, structured pedagogical methods and approaches to dealing with social and emotional challenges to learning.

Enter the Social and Emotional Learning approach developed and led by Marc Brackett, founder of the Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence in the US and author Permission to Feel.

Emotions, Sim explains, dictate every action we do.

“We are not rational thinkers. We don’t plan anything out. If we feel angry, we’re going for what our anger tells us. If we feel sad, we’re going to sit in our sadness. It doesn’t matter what rational thought is. You will always pick (an) emotion, and you will argue that your emotion is rational. So his (Brackett) book starts with trying to learn how and why emotions affect our lives.

“And we need to acknowledge the feelings before they take over us, whether they explode, or whether they paralyze us.”

The RULER approach to social and emotional learning advocates recognising emotions in ourselves and others; understanding the sources of emotions, why they arise and what they are trying to tell us; labelling emotions beyond single-termed words (‘Tell a story with it. Give it context.’); expressing and sharing one’s empathy and the story; and regulating the emotions with practical strategies rather than allowing the emotions to control.

Sim also spoke of ‘The Meta Moment’ as something that educators should watch out for in their classrooms, which she described as “the moment before one erupts”. When meta moments are recognised, educators should stop and think instead of simply reacting to the situation. While such moments are difficult to learn from, educators should not skip over the chance to stop and should facilitate serious conversations about them with their students or trainees.

Her fieldwork in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) providers in different countries in Asia and Europe have taught her that SEL, RULER, and ‘Meta Moments’ are applied different according to local conditions, circumstances, and needs.

She concluded her talk by encouraging the audience not to miss the chance to “stop and have a conversation” about difficult but serious topics, issues, and challenges. Often, young people are not taught how to understand and manage their emotions. Educators themselves should reflect on moments when they might have “played into the situation” and become party to the conflicts faced by their students or trainees instead of removing themselves and using the moment to address and resolve the issues or problems at hand.

In this way, social and emotional learning should be widely incorporated into all education and instruction, and new strategies developed to enhance emotional awareness among all learners.

As the evening drew to a close, it was apparent from the questions and comments from the audience – many of whom were instructors and educators working at different levels of the educational system – that SEL, RULER, and Meta Moments would be of immense benefit to young Malaysians if implemented widely and systematically in the country.