Social work educators’ perceptions of instructor characteristics, student characteristics, and university supports critical for the creation of an effective learning environment in social work distance education.
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Social work education is increasingly changing, and instructors are experimenting with new methods to deliver social work curricula to reach a larger population of social work students. Students previously excluded from university education based on their geographic location, financial limitations, family or work demands now have an opportunity to access social work programs in Canada using distance education, and distance education has become an emerging field of research. The current study identified instructor and student characteristics and university supports that were assessed as critical in creating an effective learning environment for delivering an entire undergraduate program of social work via distance education. The exploratory-descriptive study utilized a mixed-methods design to examine the perceptions of social work distance educators from four universities that offer a complete BSW degree accredited by the Canadian Association for Social Work Education (CASWE-ACFTS) through distance education: the University of Calgary, the University of Manitoba, the University of Victoria and Dalhousie University. Thirty-four social work distance educators completed a survey questionnaire, and 24 of these participated in qualitative interviews to identify the critical characteristics and university supports. Study findings suggest that effective performance of five distinct roles by both instructors and students are essential to creating an effective learning environment in social work distance education. The required university supports to maintain those roles are also identified. Based on these results a conceptual model for achieving effectiveness in social work distance education is identified. The study suggests what is needed to establish an effective learning environment in social work distance education and confirms the benefits of distance education in social work undergraduate programs. Suggestions for future research are included along with recommendations for building an effective distance learning environment in social work education.