Transformative Learning and Inclusion in a Global Social Work Course


  • Joan Pittman University of Maryland, School of Social Work
  • Deborah Gioia University of Maryland, School of Social Work



Transformative, global education, diversity, inclusion, interprofessional


As there are many types of global learning experiences for students, understanding best practices is critical in resource allocation and developing competencies. Additionally, diversifying global education is essential in addressing unequal student access and improving cross-cultural competence. This paper describes a short-term international course with graduate students from social work, public health, and nursing. Nine students participated in semi-structured interviews about the impact of the course on their lives. Transformative learning theory emerged as an important pedagogical guide as students described transformations in lifestyle and perspectives that developed through experiential learning. Recommendations for improving learning and increasing cultural and interprofessional learning include having guided group discussions on critical incidents, using a critical reflection process focused on cultural assumptions, and focusing on the psychological, convictional, and behavioral dimensions of learning. Traditionally underrepresented students described barriers related to international study, further emphasizing the importance of encouraging underrepresented students to pursue global opportunities through mentoring, targeted marketing, and making international experiences affordable and logistically feasible. Inclusion of students from different backgrounds in international courses is not only important in promoting social justice, but also enhances cross-cultural skill development and learning.

Author Biography

Deborah Gioia, University of Maryland, School of Social Work

Associate Professor


Acquaye, L., & Crewe, S. (2012). International programs: Advancing human rights and social justice for African American students. Journal of Social Work Education, 48(4), 763-784. doi:

Alfred, M., Cherrstrom, C., Robinson, P., & Friday, A. (2012). Transformative learning theory. In J. B. Irby (Ed.), The handbook of educational theories (pp. 133-145). Charlotte, N.C: Information Age Pub.

Askeland, G., & Fook, J. (2009). Critical reflection in social work. European Journal of Social Work, 12, 287-292. doi:

Bell, K., & Anscombe, A. (2013). International field experiences in social work: Outcomes of a short-term study abroad programme to India. Social Work Education, 32(8), 1032-1047. doi:

Brooks, J., & King, N. (2012, April). Qualitative psychology in the real world: The utility of template analysis. Paper presented at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference, London. Retrieved from

Bruce, A. (2015, May 18). 7 ways to attract diverse students to study abroad. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Brux, J., & Fry, B. (2010). Multicultural students in study abroad: Their interests, their issues, and their constraints. Journal of Studies in International Education, 14(5), 508-527. doi:

Council on Social Work Education [CSWE]. (2015). Educational policy and accreditation standards. Retrieved from

Dorsett, P., Clark, J., & Phadke, S. (2017). India Gateway Program: Transformational learning opportunities in an international context. International Social Work, 60(4), 883-896. doi:

Gilin, B., & Young, T. (2009). Educational benefits of international experiential learning in an MSW program. International Social Work, 1, 36-47. doi:

Greenfield, E. A., Davis, R. T., & Fedor, J. P. (2012). The effect of international social work education: Study abroad versus on-campus courses. Journal of Social Work Education, 48(4), 739-761. doi:

Healy, L. (2008). International social work: Professional action in an interdependent world. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Hill, C. E. (2012). Consensual qualitative research: A practical resource for investigating social science phenomenon. Washington D.C.: APA.

Institute of International Education [IIE]. (2018). Open doors 2018 fast facts. Retrieved from

Kitchenham, A. (2008). The evolution of John Mezirow’s transformative learning theory. Journal of Transformative Education, 6(2), 104-123.


Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Miles, M. B., Huberman, A. M., & Saldana, J. (2013). Qualitative data analysis: A methods sourcebook (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

NAFSA: Association of International Educators. (2018). Independent research measuring the impact of study abroad. Retrieved from

Nino, M., Cuevas, M., & Loya, M. (2011). Transformational effects of service-learning in a university developed community-based agency. Advances in Social Work, 12, 33-48.

Padgett, D. K. (2016). Qualitative methods in social work research (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Roholt, R., & Fisher, C. (2013). Expect the unexpected: International short-term study courses pedagogies and practices. Journal of Social Work Education, 49, 48-65.


Tarrant, M. A., Rubin, D. L., & Stoner, L. (2013). The added value of study abroad: Fostering a global citizenry. Journal of Studies in International Education, 18(2), 141-161. doi:

Trooboff, S., Vande Berg, M., & Rayman, J. (2008). Employer attitudes toward study abroad. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 15, 17-33.

Walters, C., Charles, J., & Bingham, S. (2017). Impact of short-term study abroad experiences on transformative learning: A comparison of programs at 6 weeks. Journal of Transformative Education, 15(2), 103-121.


Wang, C., & Burris M. A. (1997). Photovoice: Concept, methodology and use for participatory needs assessment. Health, Education & Behavior, 24(3), 369-387.