Communication & practice learning

Authors: Viviene Cree and Marianne Hughes


Active listening: a term coined by Gerard Egan (1986) to stress that we need to listen to different things - words, non-verbal cues, 'sour notes' and the wide context. Egan suggests that communication is 8% words, 56% facial cues and 36% other non-verbal cues.

Candidate: refers to the person undertaking the Practice Learning Qualification.

Critical Incident Analysis: a focused, detailed, written account analysing and reflecting on a specific incident/interaction in practice.

Learner: refers to the student undergoing the practice learning experience.

Empathy: the capacity to positively convey (using verbal and non-verbal communication) an understanding of another person's feelings.

Evaluation: an appraisal of the positives and developmental requirements of a learner's practice.

Feedback: Doel et al (1996) suggest there are different stages in giving and receiving feedback.

Group communication: the variety of verbal & non-verbal means used among a number of people where the issues of power, differences, and rules of speaking are more complex than between two people.

Ground rules: an agreed series of statements between participants in a meeting or group designed to create a sense of safety and certainty in how each person will behave towards each other in the setting.

Non-verbal communication: facial expressions, eye-contact, posture & movements; clothing & artifacts, proximity & touch which are used in combination to convey thoughts & feelings (without words) to another person.

Para-language: how we speak - pitch, volume, sound, speed and to the ways words can have a number of meanings depending on context.

Phatic communication: the 'small talk' that lubricates all communication and is often used to start and to end interactions between people.

Politically correct language: a term (sometimes used in a derogatory way to undermine anti-oppressive practice) referring to language which aims to convey anti-oppressive values.

Practice learning experience/practice learning opportunity: in some settings this is also called a placement or a practicum, and it refers to the period of time a learner with a service delivery agency working directly & indirectly with service users.

Reflective diary: also known as a learning log or reflective journal, used by a learner to record their thoughts, feelings, concerns, questions and actions during a period of practice learning (or other educational experience)

Speaking: one of the processes, using words, used to convey meaning between human beings which is influenced by rules, power, culture and non-verbal cues.

Special communication: some situations of difference require additional or different measures in order to ensure meaning is conveyed and received accurately e.g. where English is a second language, where an individual has a learning difficulty, between an adult and a child

Supervision: the formal and informal time set aside by an educator for a learner to discuss, review and evaluate the learner's experience and progress in practice

Working agreement: sometimes called a 'contract', this is a written document which sets out the boundaries, roles, procedures for assessment and learning objectives/workload for a learner during a period of practice learning.

Written communication: agency records & reports, assignments, supervision notes, process recordings, and critical incident analyses are all written documents which are used for learning and assessment purposes during a period of practice learning.

References and further reading

Berger, P. and Luckmann, T. (1966) The Social Construction of Reality, Harmondsworth: Allen Lane.

Bourdieu, P. (1991) Language and Symbolic Power, Cambridge: Polity.

Cree, V.E., and Macaulay, C. (eds) (2000) Transfer of Learning in Professional and Vocational Education, London, Routledge.

Doel, M., Shardlow, S., Sawdon, C. and Sawdon, D. (1996) Teaching Social Work Practice, Aldershot: Arena.

Douglas, T. (2000) Basic Groupwork, 2nd edition, London: Routledge.

Ekman, P. (2003) Emotions Revealed: Understanding Faces and Feelings, London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson.

Fiske, J. (1990) Introduction to Communication Studies, 2nd edition, London: Routledge.

Foucault, M. (1972) The Archaeology of Knowledge, London: Tavistock.

Henley, N.M. (1995), Body Politics revisited: What do we know today?, in Kalbfleisch, P.J. and Cody, M.J. (eds) Gender, Power and

Communication in Human Relationships, Hove: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Hochschild, A. (1983) The Managed Heart. Commercialization of Human Feeling, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kadushin, A. (1990) The Social Work Interview: A Guide for Human Service Professionals, New York, Columbia University Press.

Koprowska, J. (2005) Communication and Interpersonal Skills in Social Work, Exeter: Learning Matters.

Kurtz, S., Silverman, J. and Draper, J. (1998) Teaching and Learning Communication Skills in Medicine, Abingdon: Radcliffe Medical Press.

Lishman, J. (1994) Communication in Social Work, Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Lloyd, M. and Blor, R. (2004) Communication Skills for Medicine, 2nd edition, London: Elsevier.

Marshall, L. and Rowland, F. (1998) A Guide to Learning Independently, Buckingham: Open University Press.

Parker, J. (2004) Effective Practice Learning in Social Work, Exeter: Learning Matters.

Reinherz, S. (1997) Who am I? The need for a variety of selves in the field', in Hertz, R. (ed.) Reflexivity and Voice, London: Sage.

Shulman, L. (1984) The Skills of Helping: Individuals and Groups, 2nd edn, Itasca, IL: Peacock.

Thompson, N. (1996) People Skills, Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Thompson, N. (2003) Communication and Language. A Handbook of Theory and Practice, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Trevithick, P., Richards, S., Ruch, G. and Moss, B. (2004) Teaching and Learning Communication Skills in Social Work Education, London: SCIE.

Trevithick, P. (2005) Social Work Skills. A Practice Handbook, 2nd edition, Maidenhead, Barkshire: Open University Press.

Author information

Viviene Cree

Marianne Hughes


Ivanna Fernandez, Learning Technologist, Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services.

Paul Hart, Interactive Developer
Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services
151 West George Street
Glasgow, Strathclyde, G2 2JJ United Kingdom
work phone +44-(0)0141-228-6359

Billy Devine, Senior Designer, Learning Services, University of Strathclyde.