Practitioners, policymakers, and researchers alike have embraced holistic approaches to learning and development, but how do young people perceive and experience these approaches? The How Learning Happens research series seeks to answer this question by directly engaging with young people about their learning experiences within school and out-of-school settings. As the nation responds to COVID-19, ongoing systemic racism, and an impending economic crisis, understanding how to support the social, emotional, and cognitive development of America’s young people has never been more urgent.

wdlWhat Drives Learning: Young People’s Perspectives on the Importance of Relationships, Belonging, and Agency

What Drives Learning: Young People’s Perspectives on the Importance of Relationships, Belonging, and Agency is the newest report in the How Learning Happens research series. Based on findings from a nationally representative survey of 3,300 high school students, the report provides insight into young people’s perceptions of the conditions that support their social, emotional, and cognitive learning and development. What Drives Learning highlights the effect that supportive relationships, a sense of belonging, and feelings of agency can have on students’ self-reported engagement and learning in school.


All of who I am ALL OF WHO I AM

All of Who I Am is the foundational report of the How Learning Happens research series. The report features insights from a qualitative study of more than 100 young people who describe their experiences with the integration of social, emotional, and cognitive development in exemplar learning settings across the country. The report’s title, drawn from a young person’s own words, encapsulates the biggest insight from the report and from the research series as a whole: that supportive learning environments are nurturing young people’s sense of themselves as valued, multi-dimensional community members.


                                    READ THE REPORT

All of who I am Engaging Young People in How Learning Happens

This youth engagement guide contains actionable strategies that educators, program providers, coaches, mentors, and other youth-supporting adults can use to authentically listen to and engage with young people about how they experience social, emotional, and cognitive development. The guide features 10 steps for meaningful and mutually beneficial engagement.


COVID The State of Young People during COVID-19

The ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis looms large, creating deep and disparate consequences for young people and their families. Our nationally representative survey of high school youth reveals their perceptions of the pandemic’s impact on their learning and their lives. The findings suggest that students are experiencing a collective trauma, and that they and their families would benefit from immediate and ongoing support.



                                      DIVE DEEP INTO DATA

Discussion Guide Engaging Young People in How Learning Happens: Discussion Guide 

Students across the country are feeling the effects of a rapidly changing world—from the COVID-19 pandemic and its
effect on their lives and learning environments, to widespread uprisings in response to ongoing systemic racism. This
discussion guide offers topical discussion questions focused on the issues that young people have identified as priorities
at this moment in time. Our hope is that this guide can be used by school, district, out-of-school time, and other community leaders or youth-supporting adults who wish to partner with young people in their communities to better understand their experiences with issues that
matter to them. The four discussion topics presented in this guide are:

1) Navigating the COVID-19 Pandemic;
2) Race and Racism;
3) Virtual and Blended Learning; and
4) Communicating across Ideological Differences.


Youth Reflections About How Learning Happens 

Hear firsthand from young people who are experiencing learning environments that prioritize their social, emotional, and cognitive development. They reflect on the importance of strong relationships with adults and peers, the ability to raise their voices and make a difference, and meaningful and engaging learning that connects to their interests and future goals.

Join the Conversation

Please join the conversation by using the hashtag #HowLearningHappens and download the social media toolkits for The State of Young People During COVID-19, All of Who I Am, and What Drives Learning.

Help spread the word about All Of Who I Am (just click to launch and edit the tweet below in Twitter):

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For more information, please contact the Center for Promise at [email protected].



This research was supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, NoVo Foundation, Pure Edge, Raikes Foundation, Sanford Programs at National University System, and Wallace Foundation.

Carnegie Corporation of New York
Chan Zuckerberg Initiative
NoVo Foundation
Pure Edge
Raikes Foundation
Wallace Foundation