“When David Bowie created Ziggy Stardust” The Lived Experiences of Social Workers Learning Through Work

Ferguson, Gillian (2021). “When David Bowie created Ziggy Stardust” The Lived Experiences of Social Workers Learning Through Work. EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0001306a


The findings from this qualitative study sit at the intersection of knowledge about workplace and professional learning, offering new insights into how social workers learn through work. The study explored the unique lived experiences of social workers’ learning through an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) study (Smith et al., 2009).

IPA was selected to focus on the nature of the social workers’ lifeworld and their lived experiences of learning in the workplace. In-depth individual interviews gathered rich descriptions from sixteen social workers. The double-hermeneutic cycle, a feature of IPA, explored the meaning that the social workers drew from their experiences and the researcher making sense of the participants’ sense-making. Individual and unique experiences of the participants were explored, generating themes for the social workers through an immersive process of analysis for each case in turn.

Superordinate themes were then identified across the group that revealed the complexity of social workers’ learning experiences. These were, Journey of the self; Navigating landscape and place; Navigating tasks; Learning through the body; Learning through others; Practices and conceptions of learning; and, Learning by chance. These aspects of the social workers’ lived experiences weave together in a complex and enmeshed web, each thread connected to the others as part of the learning process. Striking metaphors were used by social workers to convey the meaning they associated with their learning in the workplace.

The thesis shows the nature and complexity of individual social workers’ experiences and how understanding these can help design more effective workplace continuing professional learning opportunities. Drawing on rich theoretical ideas from phenomenology and workplace learning, the thesis offers a hybrid conceptual web model for social work professional development. This model acknowledges the unique experience of social workers within a complex context involving navigation of task, place and embodied learning.

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