Abstract: A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Virtual Motivational Interviewing (VMI) App for Learning Motivational Interviewing Skills (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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127P A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Virtual Motivational Interviewing (VMI) App for Learning Motivational Interviewing Skills

Friday, January 13, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Cole Benson, Research Analyst, University of Utah, College of Social Work, Social Research Institute, Salt Lake City, UT
Matt Davis, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
Brad Lundahl, MSW, Research analyst, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
Chad McDonald, Ph.D., Interim Director - Social Research Institute, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
Erika Marks, MSW, Child Welfare Workforce Development Coordinator, University of Utah
Background and Purpose:

Virtual Motivational Interviewing (VMI) is a skills training app that allows deliberate practice, that is repeated, scaffolded practice with feedback, for learning Motivational Interviewing (McDonald et al., 2021). Previous research and development of VMI has assessed the feasibility, usability, and acceptability of the VMI app among social work students and child welfare workers. The present study is a continuation of research on VMI which tests the effectiveness of VMI to training as usual using randomized controlled trial (RCT). As research, evaluation, and development of the app has led to increased adoption in university curricula and child welfare workforce training, understanding the effectiveness of VMI for skill acquisition is imperative. The present study aimed to assess the extent to which use of the VMI app effectively led to skill acquisition among graduate level students learning Motivational Interviewing techniques.


A cohort of graduate students enrolled in a Motivational Interviewing class were randomly assigned to training-as-usual or training-as-usual + the VMI app. Quantitative and qualitative testing was performed to assess the effects of each condition on skill acquisition using an observer -rated roleplay of MI skills. Data were collected by blinded Motivational Interviewing experts using evaluation forms while observing structured role-plays. Quantitative results comparing skill acquisition and demonstration between students who used the VMI app versus students learning as usual will be presented.


Results from the effectiveness testing indicated that students who utilized the VMI app as part of their learning demonstrated significantly higher Motivational Interviewing skill acquisition when compared to those who received learning as usual. While the initiation results are promising, further testing is needed to understand the lasting effects of VMI use, generalizability of learning to real-world practice, and the relationship between the time of engagement with the VMI app and skill acquisition.

Conclusions and Implication

This study shows that deliberate practice approaches to skills acquisition can assist social workers to gain therapeutic competence in training prior to working with in clients. It is possible to use a mobile app (VMI) to acquire key Motivational Interviewing skills. The VMI app may be a pivotal component that can be paired with typical Motivational Interviewing training approaches to increase the effectiveness of learning. VMI may also provide a tool for ongoing skill development for child welfare workers and other practitioners who continue use Motivational Interviewing when working with clients. . Further study to determine the effects of continued VMI use on the progression of skill acquisition is needed. Having an accessible, adopted, and effective tool to gain Motivational Interviewing skills can help better equip child welfare workers to more effectively engage with the families they serve.