Experiential Learning and Learning Environments: The Case of Active Listening Skills

By Huerta-Wong, Juan Enrique; Schoech, Richard | Journal of Social Work Education, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

Experiential Learning and Learning Environments: The Case of Active Listening Skills


Huerta-Wong, Juan Enrique, Schoech, Richard, Journal of Social Work Education


VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS (VLEs) are computer- and Internet-based software systems that facilitate the management and delivery of educational content for instructors and learners. These environments allow students, without limitation of time and place, to access learning content. They also provide tools and learning resources to assist instructors in delivering and managing course content, such as discussion boards, document sharing systems, uploading and downloading of content, and student assessment (Van Raaij & Schepers, 2008). Two popular VLEs are Blackboard and Moodle. This article concerns content delivery rather than the course management features of a multimedia, game-based virtual environment. It addresses two related subjects in the social work education literature: the effectiveness of virtual environments for learning and the potential to use experiential learning in Mexican social work schools.

Background

Since 2001, Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) guidelines have called for outcomes showing that distance education is comparable to face-to-face (F2F) education (Moore, 2003). As a result, a growing corpus of evidence has supported equivalent learning outcomes in comparison studies between virtual and F2F learning environments in terms of student satisfaction, performance (Frey, Yankelov & Faul, 2003; Moore, 2003), perceptions of learning (Siebert, Siebert, & Spaulding-Givens, 2006), and skills acquisition (Ouellette, Westhuis, Marshall, & Chang, 2006; Siebert et al., 2006). F2F learning environments are classroom settings where instructors and students interact to achieve course objectives. F2F education is used here for comparison with VLEs, which are computer- and Internet-based software systems that facilitate the management and delivery of educational content for instructors and learners.

Equivalent learning outcomes are a double-edged sword. Some authors (Brabazon, 2002) state that equivalent learning outcomes suggest no reason to invest in educational technology beyond a "customer service" approach. In opposition to that stance, other researchers suggest that technology can help to improve teaching effectiveness (Schoech & Helton, 2002). Russell (1999) reviewed 355 research reports comparing different kinds of educational technologies before stating a conclusion called the "no significant difference phenomenon." According to this principle, it is not technology, but the teaching techniques behind it that produce different learning outcomes. This important distinction has often been overlooked in the social work literature that explores equivalent learning outcomes between virtual and F2F learning environments.

Since the 1990s, experiential learning has been a teaching technique extensively used to teach social workers' skills in the United Kingdom and the United States (Goldstein, 2001; Taylor, 2004). Experiential learning (EL) proposes that effective learning is influenced by a cycle of experimentation, reflection, research, and exercising (Gibbons & Gray, 2002; Goldstein, 2001; Horwath & Thurlow, 2004). According to Horwath and Thurlow (2004), studies showing the effectiveness of EL on research outcomes are in their infancy. However, because EL is supported by hands-on practice frameworks such as active learning (Chickering & Gamson, 1999) and reflective thinking (Dewey, 1998), it seems plausible to construct VLEs that incorporate EL (i.e., Abell & Galinsky, 2002; Cummins, Sevel, & Pedrick, 2006; McCarty & Clancy, 2002). Whereas research suggesting success from EL is still in the early stages of development, initial findings from that perspective suggest its plausibility (Rocha, 2000).

The setting for this study is the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon (UANL). UANL (Mexico) established its bachelor in social work (BSW) program in 1968, Mexico's first master of social work (MSW) program in 1971, and Mexico's first PhD program in social work in 1997. …

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