Work-based Learning Routes in Social Work Education: An Exploration of Student Experiences

Hamilton, Ruth (2017). Work-based Learning Routes in Social Work Education: An Exploration of Student Experiences. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis is based upon a study involving 20 work-based learners undertaking social work degrees at two UK universities, one local face-to-face university and one national distance learning university. The aim of this thesis is to offer insights into the experience of work-based learners as they journey from unqualified to qualified practitioner. The thesis is underpinned by a structural symbolic interactionist approach to human behaviour, in particular the work of Stryker on identity theory, where the importance attached to identity and role in ‘identity change processes’ (2008:21) is central to understanding the meanings attributed by work-based learners to their journeys into and through higher education.

In order to understand the meanings attributed by work based learners to their experience, narrative inquiry is used as the overarching methodological orientation; narratives of work-based learners’ journeys into and through higher education were collected via focus groups (3) and semi structured interviews (35) and analysed using Braun and Clark’s method of thematic analysis (2006). The data in this thesis highlight how identity impacts upon the educational journey of work-based learners making visible the challenges and opportunities that higher education presents to this group of students. The data also reveal how multiplicity of identity for work-based learners contributes to the complexity of both becoming and being a student. The dual concepts of salience and transition are applied to provide ways of understanding ‘identity change processes’ that occur as work-based learners accommodate multiple roles and corresponding identities within educational, occupational and domestic domains.

In the rapidly changing landscape of social work education and a resurgence of work-based learning, this thesis provides an exploration of work-based learning provision within universities based on student experience. The implications of the findings from this study are considered for a range of stakeholders in social work education.

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