Teaching and learning communication skills in social work education

The SCIE research review: Teaching and learning communication skills in social work education - a summary

The theoretical underpinning in relation to the teaching and learning of communication skills is underdeveloped. For example, there is little coherence in the literature to assist educators to teach effectively, and little coverage of students’ different learning styles. These differences are reflected in the divergent range of models identified by the Brunel Practice Review (2003)(18), and also in research undertaken by Marsh and Triseliotis (1996)(19).

In light of the requirements of the new degree in relation to teaching and learning communication skills, several aspects require particular attention:

Conclusion and challenges for the future

In light of the requirements of the new degree, the teaching of communication skills needs to be seen as a priority in social work education. Although this report has not been able to identify from the literature reviewed a unified body of knowledge on which such teaching programmes can be based, it has highlighted those aspects that need further attention.

Firstly, there are two significant aspects of the literature review generated by the Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD) search that were not possible to review within the parameters of this research project (www.york.ac.uk). However, they may be the subject of further examination by SCIE:

Secondly, it is recognised that there is far greater expertise in existence than is reflected in the literature. The findings of the SCIE practice review (2003)(16) indicate that there is a considerable amount of innovative practice being undertaken in this field that is, as yet, barely covered in the literature. It is hoped, therefore, that this report can serve as a catalyst to educators in two ways: by encouraging educators to write for publication about their knowledge and experience on this aspect of education, and to address the gaps in existing knowledge by undertaking research in the areas identified in the report’s key messages.

Thirdly, the theoretical knowledge base that underpins the teaching and learning of communication skills needs to be made more explicit, adopting the same academic rigour used in other areas of social work research and practice theory. The review was enriched by the international scope of the articles provided by the search, but the transferability of much of the material to the UK context is far from straightforward. Furthermore, more research is needed on the transferability of communication skills teaching and learning from the university to practice contexts, and across different settings and service user groups.

If these challenges can be met, there is the potential for the teaching and learning of communication skills in social work to be built on firm foundations - an essential prerequisite for effective teaching, learning and practice.

Copies of the full report of this review, Teaching and learning communication skills social work education, Knowledge review 6, can be found at www.scie.org.uk.