Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Motivation researchers have demonstrated the importance of self-concept in predicting learning preferences and behaviors important for educational success. Prior research has shown that race, gender, fixed and growth mindsets, and prior domain relevant experiences can predict the likelihood of asking for help when struggling, preferring learning and growth over getting good grades, and the likelihood of giving up in the face of effort, amongst other outcomes, all factors important for the development of clinical social work competencies. Despite this, there is no existing research that has examined the role that aspects of self-concept, or the characteristics of social work students more broadly, have for clinical social work education. This study examines original survey data from a sample (n = 161) of first year Master’s level clinical social work students at a large Midwestern University enrolled in an introductory clinical skills course. The survey assessed which student characteristics were predictive of three learning related outcome measures identified in prior motivation research. Predictors assessed included age, race, and gender; mindsets (fixed or growth) for empathy; undergraduate major; and prior social work volunteer and work related experiences. Outcome measures assessed included: (a) three items assessing preferences for learning goals over performance goals; (b) two items assessing the likelihood of asking for help when struggling; and (c) one item assessing the likelihood of volunteering to demonstrate a newly learned therapeutic technique in class. Preferences for learning goals over performance goals increased for participants with more prior social work related experiences across all three items (p = 0.16*; p = 0.19**; OR = 1.36*); with an increase in age for one item (OR = 4.4*); for male participants on one item (0.69*); and for Black participants on one item (p = 0.90**). The likelihood of asking for help when struggling increased with age (p = 0.74**), and was lower for those those who had completed undergraduate degrees in an “other” discipline (p = -1.19*) than the humanities, applied professions, or the social sciences (e.g., journalism, computer science, etc.). Finally, the likelihood of demonstrating a newly learned technique in class decreased for those with an undergraduate degree in an “other” discipline (p = -1.57*). Notably, holding a fixed or growth mindset was not predictive of any outcome measures, contrary to what might be expected from prior research. Results suggest that student characteristics matter for important preferences known to be important to clinical education. Asking for help when struggling, preferring learning over performance goals, and taking risks in a learning context are central to social work education and practice oriented disciplines more broadly. Social work educational programs could benefit from formalized strategies for cultivating behaviors and learning preferences supportive of learning and the development of social work competencies. Limitations to the study include the preliminary nature of the data collected, and the need for future research to explain the causal mechanisms involved in the patterns identified in this study and the influence they might have over time.