Transformative learning and the development of cultural humility in social work students

Publication Name

Social Work Education


Cultural humility is increasingly important in social work literature given its emphasis on mitigating power imbalances in helping relationships, particularly across cultural differences. Consequently, there is a need to understand whether and how cultural humility can be taught in social work education, both through traditional classroom instructions and cultural immersion programs. Guided by the Transformative Learning Theory (TLT) and relying on ethnographic observations and reflective journals, this study explores the process of developing cultural humility among 19 U.S. social work students who studied abroad in Ghana in the years 2016–2018. To summarise how the learning process required to develop cultural humility manifests at each of the TLT stages, we identified three major themes: 1) confusion and discomfort, 2) re-moulding, and 3) humility in action. Specifically, this process seems to depend on the experience of a disorienting dilemma, meaningful connections with others, and the ongoing readiness to function beyond one’s own cultural frame of reference. We suggest TLT can serve as a guide to social work educators and study abroad coordinators in planning, facilitating, and evaluating transformative learning experiences which can help students begin this life-long journey.

Open Access Status

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