SCIE Knowledge review 06: Teaching and learning communication skills in social work education
By Pamela Trevithick, Sally Richards, Gillian Ruch and Bernard Moss with Linda Lines and Oded Manor
Published: May 2004
In 2003 the social work qualifying course became a three-year degree. The Department of Health set out requirements for social work training1 in which it identified five core areas that all students must undertake specific learning and assessment on. Communication skills is one of these.
Good communication, both oral and written, is at the heart of best practice in social work. Communication skills are essential for establishing effective and respectful relationships with service users, and are also essential for assessments, decision making and joint working with colleagues and other professionals.
SCIE is reviewing the evidence for the teaching and learning of all five core areas and this review is the second in the series.
The purpose of the review was to identify key good practice messages to assist social work educators in developing frameworks for teaching communication skills on social work qualifying courses. However, an absence of evaluated practice has made it impossible to recommend a framework for teaching communication skills. As a result, this review identifies areas where further research is required to underpin good practice.
This knowledge review is for people who teach social work (that is, academics, practice teachers and service users) and for researchers. It may also be of interest to students and social care workers.
Messages from the knowledge review
- Theory: little of the literature was clear about the theory on which it was based. This suggests that students are taught in a 'hands-on' way without the theory to back it up. This needs to be addressed to ensure that the teaching of communication skills in social work education is based on proven theory and is relevant to social work practice. More work needs to be done on how some of the theory about teaching and learning communication should be used in practice.
- The framework of teaching and learning: the ways in which communication skills are taught are as important as what is taught. Little of the literature suggested teaching frameworks that could accommodate different learning styles, and there are some concerns about where and how social work educators are trained, both in the content of teaching communication skills and in the approach used.
- The transferability of communication skills: it is unclear whether the skills students are learning in the classroom are transferable to the workplace and whether they can be used in different, often difficult, situations. Communication skills training must be better integrated with practice learning.
- Evaluation: there is little information about how effectively communication skills are being taught and how well students are learning these skills. More work is needed on defining and measuring outcomes and the ways in which technology can be employed in supporting face-to-face learning and teaching.
- User involvement: evidence about service user involvement in teaching was absent from the literature reviewed. The core requirement of service user involvement in the design and delivery of the degree makes it essential that educators develop partnerships in this area. For more information about involving service users and carers in the social work degree, see SCIE Guide 4: Involving service users and carers in social work education.
- Meeting different communication needs: the literature review found very little research or guidance about training in written communication skills or how to communicate with people of different cultures and with particular communication needs, for example, people who have English as a second language and children. It is important that more work is done in this area.
- DH (Department of Health) (2002). Requirements for social work training, London: DH.