Practical learning: achieving excellence in the human services

January 23-25 2008 Edinburgh International Conference Centre

Learning to be a social worker in the 21st century workplace

Keywords: learning, social work practice education, workplace learning, communities of practice, practicum

Authors: Doctor Lesley Cooper (Lyle S Hallman, Faculty of Social Work, Wilfrid Laurier University); Mrs Joan Leeson (Lyle S Hallman, Faculty of Social Work, Wilfrid Laurier University)

The paradigm for learning social work practice is based in 19th and 20th century workplaces, and particular views about supervision and practice learning and teaching. Human services workplaces are changing rapidly in response to the value of service users as teachers, technology and knowledge transfer. Social work educators have an opportunity to respond, either reinvigorating social work practice education or maintaining the status quo. This paper examines and evaluates existing paradigms of social work practice education and compares these paradigms with research knowledge of learning in the work place. Social work paradigms have particular views of the teacher, ways of learning, the professional curriculum, and strategies and processes for learning. Workplace learning refers to teachers in workplaces, unique learning opportunities, canonical knowledge, a structured curriculum and broad learning strategies. Knowledge from research on workplace learning disturbs our existing paradigms for practice teaching and learning and challenges social work education to reconsider approaches to the practicum. The paper concludes with strategies applied by a faculty of social work to use communities of practice to improve the quality of social work education. This paper addresses how we are beginning to work in conjunction with agencies in a different way, challenging the divide between the academy and the field.

This paper is directed to practice teachers located in human service agencies and practicum educators who manage and coordinator the practicum. The paper challenges existing approaches to practicum learning by comparing current approaches with research on workplace learning. The analysis provides a way for educators to reconceptualise and reinvigorate the practicum. It also address some of the challenges in disturbing current views about social work practicum education.

Date: Wednesday 23 January 2008, 11.30-12.00

Venue: Harris One

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Organised by the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services in association with PEPE (Practical Experiences in Professional Education).