DHBW Dual Study Programme in Social Work: Integrating Experiential Learning into Academic Curriculum

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Commonly referred as work-based learning (WBL), the models of connecting traditional theoretical education and field-based experiential training have been largely practiced for decades in the German education system, first at vocational schools and later at the universities of applied sciences. Those models have been enhanced by the development of dual study programmes – which integrate “abstract” and “concrete” through a rotation of academic and practical occupations.

Dual study programmes are unique modes of WBL delivery in Germany, which combine in-company work experience with theoretical education at the HEIs in the form of a coordinated curriculum. Unlike a traditional programme with disintegrated internship experience, a dual study programme base half of its curriculum on the insights from work experience though internships and close connection with practice. A dual study programme in Social Work offered by the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW) constitutes a successful example of this model applied to the social sciences.

DHBW Dual Study Programme in Social Work

Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW) was the first higher education institution in Germany to combine in-company training and academic studies.

As most study programs in the DHBW, the curriculum of Dual Program in Social Work is divided into intervals of three months dedicated to practical training at the company and three month of theoretical training at DHBW for the whole duration the programme. The theoretical and practical periods offer the students an insight in social work from various angles, encompassing a variety of views.

The theoretical part of the programme introduces the students to a generalist view of social work, covering broad topics in health sciences, legal bases, education and socialization, etc., . In the practical period, students work in more specific areas within the partner organizations (most of them NGOs). Work conditions are ruled by official labour legislation and students are entitled to a €1,000 monthly salary. The co-operation with the partner organizations, as well as the nature and quality of the work performed by students, is carefully structured and closely monitored through a number of feedback mechanisms. Moreover, the connection between the theoretical and the practical periods is in part ensured by the ‘practice transfer’ activities. Students receive from the DHBW a series of tasks related to what they have seen in the theoretical modules which need to be applied in during the work phase.

The benefits of dual study programmes for all stakeholders

This example from DHBW, as well as other dual study programme based on a similar model, suggests rather noticeable benefits for the student and the participating companies. The students foresee better employment opportunities after graduation and are able to develop relevant practical skills. In addition, being financially supported during the programme is considered by many students a significant advantage in contrast to more traditional programs.  The companies see the potential of dual study programmes in bridging a skills gap and reducing the need for further training of graduates. Not to mention, they simultaneously receive support with new workforce and fresh ideas from participation in such programmes. Therefore, it is not surprising that dual study programmes have recently appeared in the spotlight: according to the latest study by Hesser and Langfeldt (2016), the number of dual study programmes offering in Germany increased by 137% in 10 years and is likely to grow further.

This article is based on a case study originally written by Andre Perusso (Münster University of Applied Sciences), developed as part of the Erasmus + Knowledge Alliance Project “Integrating Entrepreneurship and Work Experience into Higher Education” (WEXHE). This and other 80 + case studies from across Europe will be made available in the project website by the end of the year 2018. For more information on the project, please visit www.wexhe.eu

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