Methods: This scoping review used Arksey and O’Malley’s (2005) five-stage framework. The research team included a health sciences librarian and we developed an extensive search strategy and searched the following seven databases: PsycINFO, Social Services Abstracts, CINAHL, Education source, ERIC, ASSIA, and SW Abstracts. We included peer-reviewed articles and gray literature without time or geographical restrictions. Inclusion criteria were: (1) English, (2) empirical study, (3) SW education/training, (4) simulation in teaching/training/assessment, and 5) simulation involving actors or others trained in standardized client roles. We identified 3,579 articles in the initial database and hand search. We appraised the articles and charted (1) study characteristics, (2) simulation for teaching and/or assessment, (3) generalist/specialized competencies, (4) theoretical framework, and (5) facilitators/barriers in using simulation. The final stage involved collating, analyzing, and summarizing the data.
Results: Fifty articles are included in the scoping review and two-thirds were published in the last five years. Study samples included MSW students (30%), BSW students (8%), a group of BSW and MSW students (12%), clinical social workers (6%), SW field instructors (4%), a group of SW students and social workers (12%), and interprofessional teams that included SW students or social workers (28%). There was an equal number of quantitative (36%) and qualitative (36%) studies, and a slightly lower number of mixed method studies (28%). Two-thirds of the studies focused on specialized competencies such as substance use screening or assessing child maltreatment. Only 10% of the studies referred to holistic competence and 40% did not specify a theoretical framework. Many studies identified these facilitators: (1) receiving immediate feedback on observed competencies; (2) integrating student reflections in the learning process, (3) adequately preparing the simulation, (4) identifying clear learning objectives, and (4) creating a supportive learning environment. Studies reported the following barriers/challenges: (1) resource intensive, (2) inadequate time for students to fully demonstrate competencies, and (3) lack of reliable outcome measures.
Conclusions and implications: This review shows a recent increase in simulation-based learning in SW education, but many studies do not provide adequate information about conceptual frameworks, targeted competencies, and assessment measures. The reported facilitators to simulation-based learning in these SW studies resemble the simulation standards of best practice in medicine and nursing. This review has important implications for SW education and research as it highlights emerging best practices for SW education and areas for future research.