Teaching and learning communication skills in social work education

Practice example 10: 'Learning and observation’ module, BA Social Work, University of Sussex/ University of Brighton Planned by Cath Holmstrom, Gill Johnston and Pat Le Riche

This module is taught in the first term of the BA Social Work on the Sussex University campus. The overall aim of the teaching is to provide an introduction to study skills to support students as they make the transition into higher education. This module informs all aspects of learning in the first year of the programme. Two concepts will provide the main focus: the development of identity and the use of observational learning.

Identity development provides a theme for all the Sussex modules at Level 1 of the BA. In the first term the emphasis is on personal identity, moving on to professional identity in the second term and interprofessional identity in the third term. The shadowing experience, which takes place towards the end of the first term, provides a bridge between aspects of personal and professional identity.

Exploring aspects of identity will provide the focus for developing study skills for individual and collaborative learning.

In groups the students explore a range of study skills such as reading and writing for a purpose, making notes and referencing. They are helped to make use of a range of resources such as electronic sources and the libraries on both the Sussex and Brighton campus.

The second key concept, the use of observational knowledge and skills, explores the use of observation in the process of shadowing social workers. Within the module there is an active approach to observational learning using a range of teaching and learning strategies. These include practising observational skills in and outside the classroom, exploring observational theory and learning how to record observations. Students will also be introduced to the characteristics of ethical observation as a 'case study’ in anti-oppressive practice.

Learning aims and outcomes

Our overall expectation in planning the module is that students will be active participants in the learning. They will be helped to develop skills in independent and collaborative study so that they can take greater responsibility for their own learning. The detailed aims of the module are to lay the foundation for successful study at degree level by:

At the end of this module students will be able to:

Assessment of learning

The assignment will consist of a learning and observation record. The three parts of the record are:

  1. An individual annotated bibliography on the subject of identity.
  2. A description of the work of the learning group in preparing the bibliography.
  3. An account of the student’s initial understanding of some of the ways in which observational learning can be used in shadowing professional practice.


Throughout the module the students will be encouraged to evaluate their own and others’ contributions to learning. Self and peer evaluation will be a key element of 'learning to learn’.

The module will be formally evaluated at the end of the term but formal and informal feedback will be sought on an ongoing basis.

Further information available from Pat Le Riche, University of Sussex (p.leriche@sussex.ac.uk).