In the spring of 2021, the national education nonprofit PowerMyLearning conducted a research study to examine the impact of Family Playlists on social emotional learning (SEL) outcomes and academic mastery. Family Playlists are interactive digital learning assignments that invite families into the homework process and empower students to learn by teaching their family members what they are doing in school. PowerMyLearning’s Theory of Change posits that Playlists have a positive impact on academic mastery and SEL skills. While we had already found significant positive impact of Family Playlists on state math test scores, we had only anecdotal evidence of impact on SEL.
With the generous support of the Leon Lowenstein Foundation, we partnered with the 6th grade science teacher at a Los Angeles public charter school to carry out the research described in this case. PowerMyLearning staff supported the teacher in assigning Family Playlists aligned with her science curriculum. This allowed the team to conduct short-cycle randomized control trials (RCTs) designed to examine the impact of individual playlists vs. standard solo homework assignments on student learning outcomes. By conducting a “trial run” and two RCT cycles, we were able to generate valuable insights into how users (teachers, students, and family members) experienced Family Playlists and generate two rounds of impact data within just a few months. The short-cycle nature of the research allowed us to make timely improvements, and the RCT design allowed for causal attributions about Family Playlists’ impacts.
Results from this research showed that, compared to standard solo homework assignments, Family Playlists had a statistically significant positive impact on key SEL outcomes related to student agency, including intrinsic motivation, perceived competence, and perceived choice. Results showed that the positive SEL impacts of Family Playlists were especially pronounced for English Language Learners.