Science backs up what educators, parents, and caregivers have long known: learning is social, emotional, and cognitive. The most powerful learning happens when we pay attention to all of these aspects—not separately, but woven together, just like how our brains work. 

America’s Promise Alliance is advancing this understanding about how learning happens and helping to fuel the growing movement to educate children as whole people—combining their social and emotional well-being with academic growth and success. Our effort builds on the work of many organizations and coalitions to advance a whole child approach to learning and development. 

The voices of those on the frontlines of education, community, and employment drive us to believe that a focus on young people’s comprehensive learning and growth is essential for helping our schools, our communities, and our workplaces become the thriving, productive, and collaborative places we know they can be.

Nation of Hope Cover

From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope

A growing movement dedicated to the social, emotional, and academic well-being of children is reshaping learning and changing lives across America. On the strength of its remarkable consensus, a nation at risk is finally a nation at hope. The final report from the Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development includes recommendations in research, practice, and policy for helping states and local communities close the gap between what we know about how learning happens and the learning experiences that our young people are engaged in every day.

Authored by:

The Aspen Institute: National Commision on Social & Emotional Acacemic Development


Research, Practice, & 
Policy Agendas

  • The Science of Learning and Development

    Research shows strong relationships with educators help students develop the cognitive skills they need to learn and thrive.

  • What is the Social Brain?

    Brain science tells us learning is a social endeavor. Watch to find out more about #HowLearningHappens.

  • What Is Learning About

    Learning is academic, social, AND emotional. That’s not an opinion. That’s #HowLearningHappens.

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Communication Tools

How do we talk about the skills and competencies that help our young people learn and grow in a way that’s intuitive and actionable? This became the call to action that led Learning Heroes, the National Commission, and now America’s Promise Alliance, to collaborate in developing a suite of communications resources to help our partners address this challenge.

We hope these resources will help you effectively engage with multiple audiences―but especially with families, educators, and youth-serving leaders―about the development of social, emotional, and cognitive skills in children.

Explore the Tools

Building Partnerships in Support of Where, When, and How Learning Happens

Created by the National Commission’s Youth Development Work Group, this brief focuses on the critical role youth development organizations play in young people’s growth and development. If you are interested in learning more about the Youth Development Work Group and how you can be involved, please reach out to Nate Ross, Program and Communications Associate, The Forum for Youth Investment, at [email protected]

 Report Cover
Report Cover

Read the Brief

Highlighted Research

The Brain Basis for Integrated Social Emotional, and Academic Development | How emotions and social relationships drive learning

This research brief from the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development explores how emotions and relationships drive learning and are a fundamental part of how our brains develop. The brief explains how emotionally safe and cognitively stimulating environments contribute to brain development; how brain development that supports learning depends on social experiences; and how sensitive periods in brain development align with opportunities for learning and needed supports. The brief draws from the research base to suggest basic principles for educational policymakers and practitioners.


Latest Resources

Joyful youth
Call for Community Conveners on How Learning Happens
Join the national and local movement to advance young people’s social, emotional, and cognitive development. America’s Promise is seeking five community conveners to inspire action on how learning happens. Each community will be awarded $30,000 to support planning and execution of the convening.
Achieving a 90 Percent Graduation Rate Webinar: Making Effective Work-Based Learning Real for All Students
hear from Urban Alliance, which provides underserved high school seniors with training, internships, & mentoring that build the social, emotional, and cognitive skills they need to succeed in life after high school.
Students working together
Building Systems of Integrated Student Support
This resource provides state-by-state and issue-specific analyses of how state laws address the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model.


America’s Promise Alliance is leading the How Learning Happens effort in partnership with: