Taxonomy Project

The Taxonomy Project seeks to create greater precision and transparency in the field of social and emotional learning (SEL) and to facilitate more effective translation between research and practice. This project resulted in Explore SEL, a site designed as a navigator for the field of social and emotional learning. We provide information and tools that summarize and connect the major frameworks and skills in the field to support transparency and informed decision-making.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) has often been used as an umbrella term to represent a wide array of non-academic skills that individuals need in order to set goals, manage behavior, build relationships, and process and remember information. These skills and competencies develop across our lives and are essential to success in school, work, home, and community. Generally speaking, this set of skills can be organized into three interrelated areas: cognitive, social, and emotional. Importantly, these skills and competencies develop and are in dynamic interaction with attitudes, beliefs, and mindsets as well as character and values, all of which are fundamentally tied to characteristics of settings.

Throughout its history, the field of social and emotional learning (SEL) has been defined or characterized in a variety of ways. In some respects, the term SEL serves as an umbrella for many subfields with which many educators, researchers, and policy-makers are familiar (e.g., bullying prevention, civic and character education and development, conflict resolution, social skills training, life skills, “soft” or “non-cognitive” skills, 21st century skills). However, discussion of this broad non-academic domain lacks clarity about what we mean and is beset by dilemmas about how best to measure and promote skills in this area. Underlying this challenge, and in some ways compounding it, is the fact that the field more generally is structured around a large number of organizational systems or frameworks that often use different or even conflicting terminology to talk about a similar set of skills.

The complex and conflicting terminology used in the field can make it difficult to sort through and compare all the information out there to determine which approach works best for you. This lack of clarity can be both overwhelming and confusing. Without a way to make sense of the words, it becomes easy to misinterpret, over-generalize, or overlook the science that links evidence to strategies, and strategies to measurement and evaluation. When this happens, the links that connect different points along the research-to-practice cycle become lost or obscured, and the cycle breaks down.

The tools and resources on the Explore SEL site support exploring, connecting, and comparing SEL and non-academic frameworks and skills to build a broader and deeper understanding of SEL and related fields, to grow clarity and transparency, and to enable users to select a framework to guide their SEL work, and much more.

Explore SEL was designed and developed by Friends of The Web, in collaboration with the EASEL Lab. Friends of The Web is a digital studio in Baltimore that helps research labs, graduate programs, and other teams from colleges and universities effectively communicate their research to a broader audience. Their work can be found at

Read our 2017 article about why words matter in the field of SEL to learn more about the challenge this project seeks to address or view this handout to learn more about the Taxonomy Project. Also read the news release of the launch of Explore SEL.


Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Echidna Giving

Einhorn Family Charitable Trust

Funders’ Collaborative for Innovative Measurement (FCIM)

Raikes Foundation

Overdeck Family Foundation

Wallace Foundation

William and Flora Hewlett Foundation


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