Teaching students to learn through doing: how welfare policy may be better understood by experiential learning through active research.

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The Dearing Report (1997) on learning and teaching advocated that competence should be at the heart of professionalism, that practical skills together with the underpinning subject and pedagogical knowledge be associated with competent teaching, and that behaviours, values and protocols be associated with professional conduct. Healey (2005) argues that students benefit from a depth of learning and understanding of research when they are involved actively, particularly through various forms of inquiry-based learning. Yet there is a danger of what Hattie and Marsh (1996:529) regard as the ‘enduring myth’ of ‘teaching and research being inextricably intertwined’ especially if the link between the two is not made explicit with real life case studies and opportunities to apply research knowledge.

In an age where social policy as a discipline has experienced declines in student numbers relative to other more definably practice based subjects (e.g. criminology and social work), the aim of this paper is to demonstrate the ways in which students can acquire knowledge about welfare policy and at the same time understand the value of social policy research rich in experiential scholarship and professional practice. The objective is to show how a reflective and participatory approach to teaching has resulted in definable outcomes for students, the department and the wider community.

A case study is provided which describes how a group of final year students were facilitated to actively engage people with learning disabilities to participate in the analysis and dissemination of findings of a research project which explored service user views about employment. Many students who had previously complained that social policy about learning disability was 'dry' and 'difficult' to understand reported at the end of the course that they had ‘learnt the most in their whole University career’. I end by suggesting how other courses might adopt the model.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2007
EventSocial Policy Annual Conference: Social Policy in the 21st Century - University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK United Kingdom
Duration: 23 Jul 200725 Jul 2007


ConferenceSocial Policy Annual Conference
Country/TerritoryUK United Kingdom


  • welfare policy
  • teaching


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