Shift happens: transformative learning in social work education

Jones, Peter (2016) Shift happens: transformative learning in social work education. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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This thesis reports on a research project exploring the utility of Mezirow's transformative learning theory (Mezirow, 1991, 1997, 2000, 2009, 2012) as an explanatory construct in understanding the experiences of social work students, and as a guide to practice in social work education. Using a critical theory framework and a practitioner action research methodology, 25 final year social work students were interviewed with the aim of exploring their experience of social work education and, in particular, whether or not they had experienced transformative learning as described in Mezirow's theory. The thesis begins by presenting a review of Mezirow's theory, as articulated and developed over four decades, and reviewing a selection of literature which illustrates some of the ways in which transformative learning as an approach has been developed, facilitated and applied over that time. This literature is then linked to the core concerns and features of social work and social work education, with particular attention to critical and emancipatory concerns, in order to identify points of congruence between these and the tenets of transformative learning theory.

The methodology for the research is then outlined and the findings presented. Of the 25 participants, a small but significant minority (N=9) reported learning experiences that aligned closely with Mezirow's description of transformative learning. The presence of a disorienting dilemma and the ability and commitment to engage in critical reflection on self and assumptions are shown as key to these students' experiences. The lack of a transformative experience among the balance of participants appears related to the level of pre-existing congruence between students' knowledge, values and exposure to social work, and the content of social work education. Of particular interest are the apparent lack of a structural and critical consciousness in the accounts of transforming students and the lack of evidence for the linking of individual change to wider issues of emancipation and social change.

The discussion of the findings, which follows, highlights the utility of Mezirow's theory in explaining the experiences of both transforming and non-transforming students, and also points to ways in which the experiences of the research participants may inform practice in social work education. Particular attention is given to the ways in which the use of transformative learning theory in social work education may contribute to a critical approach to social work, and more broadly to progressive social change. Implications of the research are then discussed and a series of recommendations and suggestions for professional bodies and social work educators presented, focused mainly on approaches for facilitating transformative learning that emphasise critical dimensions of learning and practice.

Item ID: 50859
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Mezirow’s transformative learning theory, transformative learning, social work education, social work students
Date Deposited: 26 Sep 2017 22:51
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1607 Social Work > 160701 Clinical Social Work Practice @ 100%
SEO Codes: 93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9301 Learner and Learning > 930102 Learner and Learning Processes @ 100%
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