The Communication Workshop

Sara Coulson
De Montfort University Leicester
Patient and Public Involvement


We describe a half-day IPE workshop for pre-registration healthcare science, social work and speech and language therapy students.  The workshop focuses on overcoming barriers when working with people with communication disabilities.  It is co-taught by academic tutors and service users with communication disabilities.

  • Three hour workshop
  • Students work in small interprofessional groups
  • Interactive workshop activities
  • Disabled service users share experiences of communication barriers and good practice

What are the Aims?

Students on different professional courses were learning about communication uniprofessionally.  Not all professions focus explicitly on communication with people with a range of communication disabilities although all professions will encounter such people. Learning is much richer for students and tutors if different professional perspectives are shared.  Many students have never met a person with communication disability.  Many service users with communication disability do not have a voice.

Who was/is involved?

The workshop was designed by academic tutors and service users.

First year students from the three professions attend the workshop in their first term.

The workshop is co-taught by academic tutors and service users.

What has changed/will change?

How did we develop this work?

The workshop evolved out an earlier version for a different combination of students.  Colleagues from speech and language therapy and social work discussed a revised format and invited healthcare science students to participate.  We invited a service user with aphasia to participate and later a deaf person also took part.  After the first year we met as a team to review student evaluations and refine the workshop.

Development process

Step One Prototype: Devised by academics, service users consulted and invited to participate

Step Two Evaluation and improvements:  Focus shifted from “good communication” to “successful communication”Workshop format simplified.  Service users joined academics in planning and evaluating the workshop.

Step Three Further development: More service users recruited e.g. deaf people, person with learning difficulties.   Format of service user’s input developed to reflect people’s choice. Procedures for supporting service users improved.  Workshop extended from two to three hours based on student feedback.

What lessons have we learnt?

The workshop has been running for 10 years including early versions.  Each year it is attended by approximately 130 students from the participating courses.  It is a compulsory part of their IPE curriculum.

We have now built a team of six service users who have participated in the workshop.


Students report:

A broader understanding of what communication is which they take forward into their placements "I found this very insightful"

Positive experiences of working with students on other courses which will influence their attitudes towards working with them professionally

Insight into the lived experiences of people with communication disabilities and the impact these can have on their lives "I particularly enjoyed hearing the point of view and experiences of R and E"  "Maybe introduce more service users as I found their input really valuable"

Increased motivation to work with such people

Key lessons we learned

Tutors and students learned for delivering this workshop together.  We learned different perspectives on communication and specific techniques and skills from people from other professions.

We learned to build in time and systems to support service users to take part in the workshop e.g. having the room available early so we could meet beforehand, meetings with new people to go over the workshop before they attended, inviting people to observe before taking part.

We learned that the way professionals sometimes talk can be uncomfortable for service uses, for instance in the early versions of the workshop we asked students to consider what made “good communication”.  However, a service user pointed out that many of the things described by students (e.g. using grammatical sentences”) he was unable to do. We therefore changed this discussion to “successful communication”.

We all gained information and strategies from the service users who shared not only experiences and tips but also techniques and resources. We have incorporated many of these ideas into the workshop.

Student evaluations ask to meet more service users and to have more chance to interact with them; this will inform further developments

Where next?

The teaching team will support other clusters of professions to develop a similar workshop customised for their curricula.  We are working with the service users to explore ways in which they can interact more with the students during the workshop.

Contact details

Sara Coulson