'Like Placement in the Classroom': Evaluating problem-based learning on a post graduate social work training programme - a two-cohort study.

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Problem-based learning is increasingly used in social work education as a pedagogical method, which responds to the requirements of rapidly changing workplaces and the consequent demands for dynamic thinking required of our students and graduates (Burgess and Young, 2005; Lam, 2009). It emphasises a self-directed approach to problem-solving a simulated 'real world' problem. It fits well with social work, a profession whose policy and legal orientation can shift rapidly and where students need to develop an ability to update their knowledge base and not simply rely on static, acquired knowledge (Engel, 1999).

This presentation will re-visit problem-based learning, drawing on an evaluation of its use with two cohorts of final year MSc Social Work students at a university in the south of England. Focus Groups and Questionnaires were used to explore the perceptions of students about the value of the approach. Students valued the self-directed approach to study and emphasised that it helped to bridge a perceived divide between theory and practice.

Echoing earlier studies, the students in the first cohort voiced mixed views about group learning aspects (Lam, 2009), suggesting that more work was required on group-work and conflict resolution skills, though this was more balanced for the second cohort. Students also said that the approach was highly dependent upon skilled scaffolding by the teaching team (Hmelo-Silver et al, 2007) and did not want problem-based learning to be offered as an alternative to the lecture. Most strikingly, given that the approach aims to de-clutter the curriculum (Burgess and Young, 2005), students reported that the approach actually added to their workloads and experience of pressure. This finding comes in the context of concurrent placement and university work as well as high numbers of students with child care or other caring responsibilities, who found it difficult to carve out the time to do this self-directed work. These themes will be discussed in relation to students' contemporary experience of social work education.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jun 2019
EventEuropean Association of Schools of Social Work Annual Conference - Complutense University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain
Duration: 4 Jun 20197 Jun 2019


ConferenceEuropean Association of Schools of Social Work Annual Conference
Abbreviated titleEASSW Conference
Internet address


  • problem-based learning
  • social work education
  • pedagogy

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