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Dr Gillian Ferguson

Dr Gillian Ferguson

Profile summary

Professional biography

Gillian Ferguson is a lecturer in the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS) and is currently involved in work on the Social Work professional programmes and Health and Social Care modules. She has worked in a broad variety of settings including direct practice, workforce development, advisory and regulatory roles, including as a social worker, community learning worker and academic. Gillian worked in her early career as a support worker in the Rape Crisis movement, subsequently working as a youth worker, adult learning worker and health promotion practitioner. She managed a third sector addictions counselling service for many years, remains involved in supporting learning and continues to undertake direct practice in this field. Gillian has also worked in local authority roles and was an associate lecturer with The Open University for about sixteen years.

Research interests

Gillian is an educational researcher integrating different areas of her own learning and professional experience. 

Gillian is interested in research into learning, education and practice in social work and other professional areas including service and project evaluation. Her doctoral thesis focused on workplace learning in relation to social workers: titled, “When David Bowie Created Ziggy Stardust” The Lived Experiences of Social Workers Learning Through Work. The study explored the unique lived experiences of social workers’ learning in the course of their work activities, through an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) study. The findings from this qualitative study sit at the intersection of knowledge about workplace and professional learning, offering new insights into how social workers learn through daily work. The thesis shows the nature and complexity of individual social workers’ experiences and how understanding these can help design more effective workplace continuing professional learning opportunities. 

Gillians's current research projects include:

  • Exploring effective workplace practices that support social workers' learning
  • Writing in Professional Social Work Impact Phase with Dr Lucy Rai, Ann Flynn, Lindsay Giddings and Dr Alison Twiner
  • Knowledge Landscapes a PRAXIS funded project exploring how professional doctorate researchers negotiate academic and professional epistemologies led by Dr Azumah Dennis
  • Responsibility to act on climate emergency: a Document Analysis of social work educational and professional standards across the UK with Lindsay Giddings

Gillian is actively involved in supporting doctoral research at the Open Unviersity with the WELS postgraduate and emerging researchers’ blog | A PGR-led blog (, support for learning around methodologies and supervision of doctoral students. She is open to contact in relation to examination of doctoral work and external examination roles. 

Recent Iriss publication The Importance of Workplace Learning for Social Workers

Gillian was a member of the advisory group for a longitudinal study into Newly qualified social workers in Scotland - A five-year longitudinal study led by Dundee University and commissioned by The Scottish Social Services Council.

Gillian is currently a peer reviewer for:

Qualitative Social Work

Children and Society 

Journal of Practice Teaching and Learning

Teaching interests

Currently Gillian is involved in production and presentation of social work and health & social care modules at The Open University. She has previously been an Associate Lecturer and been involved in teaching across a broad range of modules, including widening participation, social work, health and social care, working with children and families.

Current teaching responsibilities include:

Previously Gillian led the delivery of the Practice Learning Award for a partnership in Scotland. She remains interested in learning through and in professional practice, and how this can best be facilitated. 

Impact and engagement

Gillian's professional experience in third sector and local authority settings continues to inform her teaching and learning activity. She remains close to professional practice through involvement in services in Scotland in direct work.

Recent conference presentations

Ferguson, G., (2021) ‘Reconceptualising workplace learning for social workers’ 13th International Conference on Practice Teaching and Field Education in Health and Social Work

Ferguson, G (2022) 'When David Bowie Created Ziggy Stardust: Reconceptualising workplace learning for social workers' Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board, 9th Annual Social Work and Social Care Research Conference

‘Writing in social work’ presentation to British Association of Applied Linguistics PAWBL SIG with Dr Lucy Rai February 2022

Reconceptualising workplace learning for social workers presentation to Open University Social Work Research Group April 2022

Reconceptualising workplace learning for social workers presentation to Strathclyde University Lunchtime Seminar Series November 2022


Recent presentations to social work organisations

Scottish Social Services Council, Newly Quaified Social Workers Supported Year in Scotland Test Sites - Reconceptualising workplace learning for social workers

Reconceptualising workplace learning for social workers presentation to Social Work Scotland, Learning and Development National Network, December 2021

Reconceptualising workplace learning for social workers to South Ayrshire Council March 2022

Reconceptualising workplace learning for social workers presentation to Dundee City Council May 2022

Reconceptualising workplace learning for social workers presentation to Dumfries and Galloway Council April 2022


Forthcoming presentations 

Reconceptualising workplace learning for social workers presentation to Falkirk Council, Social Work Conference December 2022

Reconceptualising workplace learning for social workers presentation to Scottish Association of Social Workers Community of Practice Session December 2022


[Book Review] Out of the shadows: the role of social workers in disasters edited by Angie Bartoli, Maris Stratulis and Rebekah Pierre (2022)
Ferguson, Gillian
Social Work Education: The International Journal ((Early Access))

‘When David Bowie created Ziggy Stardust’ Reconceptualising workplace learning for social workers (2022)
Ferguson, Gillian
The Journal of Practice Teaching and Learning ((in press))

The importance of workplace learning for social workers (2022-12)
Ferguson, Gillian
Insititute for Research and Innovation in Social Services, Glasgow, Scotland.