The importance of workplace learning for social workers

Ferguson, Gillian (2022). The importance of workplace learning for social workers. Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services, Glasgow, Scotland.



This Insight considers how social workers learn in, through and at work, which is drawn from recent Scottish empirical evidence from their lived experiences. Additional evidence is drawn together to help reconceptualise workplace learning for social workers, a unique group with diverse tasks and roles.

Professional learning is central to social work across career stages in which formal, informal and self-directed modes are promoted. Learning through practice is also a major integral element of qualifying programmes. Beyond the qualifying stage, workplace learning offers rich opportunities to learn. However, it is not fully recognised or valued by social workers or organisations that employ them.

In the workplace, the way that tasks can be designed to foster learning are not maximised. Organisational strategies invariably rely on tangible, topic-focused or direct/formal training activities to meet perceived needs. Ultimately, understanding the complexity of what learning in the workplace is like for social workers can help us rethink approaches to professional development. Workplace learning through direct practice tasks can be part of a cohesive approach to professional learning for social workers in a continually shifting policy context.

This Insight aims to provide social workers – and those concerned with their learning and development – the opportunity to consider ideas from workplace learning theory. This is alongside research and evidence from the experiences of social workers to help shape effective workplace and organisational practices.

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