Online MSW Programs in Macro Social Work, Policy, and Administration
Online social work programs in macro social work prepare students to engage in social work research; program design, development, and assessment; political advocacy; and other large-scale social work initiatives that enact change at the community, state, national, and international levels. While micro (also referred to as clinical) social work is important for addressing individuals’ mental, emotional, and sociocultural challenges within the context of their environment, macro social work instead examines these very environments, with the aim of addressing the external factors contributing to individuals’ suffering. Examples of macro social work include but are not limited to:
- A social worker who engages in political advocacy through a non-profit organization that promotes women’s reproductive rights and combats domestic violence with programs that support women throughout the community.
- A social work-focused research team that conducts qualitative and quantitative research to unearth new ways to improve existing social work practices across a variety of client situations and contexts.
- A social worker who works for an urban planning organization that seeks to address social and financial inequalities in a community through the design and building of communities that are conducive to diversity, acceptance, and social support.
- A social worker who progresses from working directly with patients in a hospital setting to helping establish patient education programs at his or her hospital, as well as campaigns that target vulnerable populations in need of awareness around nutrition, lifestyle choices, reproductive health, and other community health issues.
As the above examples illustrate, macro social work concerns addressing the systemic, community-based, or government/political foundations of social problems that affect members of a community. Due to the diversity within the field of macro social work, there are numerous online MSW concentrations that fall within this category, and which can prepare students for a career in this discipline. These include programs in Social Work Policy and Advocacy, Community Leadership and Program Development, Social Service Administration, and Innovation for Social Change, among others.
This page describes the typical curriculum structure for online macro social work MSW programs, as well as the instruction methods that these programs generally employ. In addition, it delves into field education requirements for macro social work practice, and offers tables outlining the difference between full-time and part-time courses of study.
Note: Many online MSW programs offer what is referred to as an advanced generalist specialization, which combines instruction in both micro and macro social work. These programs also allow students to customize their education based on elective courses and, therefore, may be a good option for students who are not sure which path they would like to pursue after completing their degree, or who wish to combine macro and micro social work in their future careers. To learn more, see our Online Advanced Generalist MSW Programs page.
Instruction Methods for Online Macro Social Work MSW Programs
Online MSW programs in macro social work use asynchronous instruction, synchronous instruction, or both modes of instruction to engage students with course content, instructors, and peers. Asynchronous instruction is any educational content that is available for students to view on their own time. Examples include pre-recorded lectures, independent course readings, and assignments that students can complete at their own pace as long as they abide by submission or participation (e.g. participating in online discussion forums) deadlines. In contrast, synchronous instruction is defined as any program component that requires students to log in at specific times to attend in real-time, which includes live lectures, live video-based seminar discussions, presentations that students give to professors and peers, and examinations that all students must complete simultaneously.
While all online MSW programs in macro social work include asynchronous instruction, these programs vary in terms of how and to what extent they incorporate synchronous instruction into their curriculum. For example, while some programs might have almost exclusively pre-recorded, asynchronous lessons and weekly chat discussions that students can contribute to on their own time, other programs may require students to meet for a live seminar discussion every week. Still other programs might provide optional synchronous components to give students the ability to connect more directly with their professors and peers, while still giving flexibility to those students whose schedules do not permit them to attend.
Most online MSW programs deliver their course content through a learning management system (LMS), which is typically an online service that provides a portal through which students can access course materials, submit assignments, take examinations, view their grades, and access the contact information of their instructors, program staff, and classmates. Most learning management systems are highly interactive and require students to have a computer and/or tablet with video chat capabilities. Some LMS programs also have extensive mobile capabilities, making it possible for students to attend classes or contribute to discussions on their mobile phone. For more details on instruction methods for online MSW programs, including the advantages and disadvantages of synchronous vs. asynchronous instruction, please refer to our FAQ entitled: Instruction Methods for Online MSW Programs.
Curriculum Details for Online Macro MSW Programs: Foundational Courses
The foundational courses for an online MSW program in macro level social work are in general similar or equivalent to those of advanced generalist or clinical social work programs, in that they focus on the foundations of social work practice, human psychology and behavior in the social environment, social work research and policy advocacy, and social work practice with individuals, groups, families, organizations, and communities. Many online macro social work MSW programs will include one or more courses in direct, micro-level social work practice because understanding how human and social services operate at the individual, micro level is generally very important in understanding how to best serve larger organizations and communities.
Below are examples of courses that an online macro social work MSW program may include in their foundation-year curriculum:
- Human Behavior and the Social Environment: An overview of the major theories governing individual, group, and family functioning across psychological, emotional, social, and spiritual dimensions. Students also learn the impact that sociopolitical structures, institutions, and processes have on individuals’ psychology and behavior, and vice versa. The key concepts and theories for the assessment of and intervention in situations that negatively impact clients’ mental, emotional, and/or physical health.
- Social Work Research: An in-depth discussion of social work research, with a particular emphasis on evidence-based practice. Students learn how to conduct literature reviews, evaluate research outcomes to inform their own practice at the micro and macro levels, and also design qualitative and quantitative studies on topics within social work practice that are of personal and/or professional interest to them.
- Social Work Practice with Individuals, Groups, and Families: Students learn to combine the mission of the social work profession, a person-in-environment perspective, and numerous problem solving models to design effective and culturally empathetic interventions for individuals across different demographic groups. Students learn how to interview clients, gather data on client challenges, formulate differential diagnoses, and address mental, behavioral, and social problems in diverse contexts.
- Social Work Practice with Organizations and Communities: The foundations of social work practice when working with organizations and communities. The impact that sociopolitical and economic systems have on individuals, families, and communities, in terms of their mindsets, behaviors, physical and mental health, and internal and external stressors, inequalities, and injustices. How to optimize social services within diverse communities and complex social, human services, and political systems.
- Social Work Policy: A comprehensive overview of social service policies and institutions in the United States, including the history of social welfare, how it has evolved over time, and how contemporary circumstances have shaped current social welfare systems. The responsibility of the social worker to be aware of the impact that political systems and policies have on their clients’ mental, emotional, and behavioral health, as well as their access to important public services and support. The avenues that social workers have for political advocacy to improve social service systems, including research, grassroots social action, and lobbying through political agencies and organizations.
- Foundational Field Practicum: In their first, foundational field practicum, students apply all of the concepts, methods, and skills that they learn in their foundational coursework to real work with clients and social justice organizations. Students establish learning outcomes with their practicum supervisor, and work with their supervisor throughout the term to complete responsibilities that align with these learning outcomes.
- Foundational Field Practicum Integrative Seminar: In this discussion seminar, students complete reflective assignments on their experiences in field education, discuss questions, challenges, and learning outcomes with their peers, and may also complete presentations before their instructor.
Curriculum Details for Online Macro MSW Programs: Advanced Standing Courses
The advanced courses for online macro MSW programs allow students to specialize in the area(s) of macro social work that interest them the most, while also helping them to build off of their foundational coursework to develop more comprehensive skills in research, program development, advocacy, political reform, and/or institutional and community leadership. Below are examples of specialization courses that students of these programs might take:
- Program Planning, Development, and Evaluation: The methods and strategies that are integral to the design, implementation, management, and evaluation of human service programs and organizations. Students learn how to determine the scope of a particular community need, develop a program budget, and models for fulfillment of key social objectives. Students also learn important organizational management practices and interagency collaboration.
- Advanced Social Work Research: Building off of the social work research course they take in their foundational year, students explore special topics in this arena, such as research on the incidence of substance abuse in certain populations, the impact of community educational programs on the incidence of obesity and diabetes, and the efficacy of certain social work treatment modalities in particular contexts. By examining case studies and participating in their own research projects, students learn how to use research to better understand client populations, examine social injustices more closely, evaluate the impact of human services programs, and establish better evidence-based practices.
- Social Work Leadership and Administration: How social workers can take on leadership, administrative, and mentorship roles at social work agencies and organizations. Students learn strategies for facilitating interdepartmental collaboration within social work agencies and related organizations to further these organizations’ mission statement. They also learn how to incorporate leadership principles into their work with clients at the organizational and community levels.
- Community Planning: The different factors that lead to the development of strong, healthy, and cohesive communities with limited inequalities and social discord. The different community planning strategies that help to promote community safety and well-being, as well as the common sociocultural, financial, and environmental problems communities might encounter. Students learn how to design, implement, and evaluate interventions that address these problems in a diverse set of communities.
- Community Mobilization: How to organize and mobilize communities using a combination of analytical, political, and interpersonal skills. How to empower historically disempowered groups such as racial and ethnic minorities, women, the sexually marginalized, the elderly, and low-income individuals. How to form partnerships between organizations and individuals in order to build effective strategies and promote collective action.
- Fundraising and Financial Management for Human Services: The processes and procedures that social service and non-profit social justice agencies must follow in order to obtain funding for projects and engage in effective resource development. Students learn the different ways of acquiring financial and other important resources for organizations committed to social justice, including grant seeking, online and in-person fundraising, special events, and resource development studies.
- Macro-Level Crisis Intervention for Social Workers: Social workers learn how to apply social work strategies, crisis intervention methods, and advanced theories to large-scale responses to mass disaster, violence, and crisis. Evidence-based interventions for supporting victims of trauma across different contexts. Also, students examine the larger cultural, social, political, economic, and environmental impacts of natural and man-made disasters, and learn how to build programs and interventions that address these impacts.
- Innovation for Social Change: How to use innovative data collection and analysis technologies to identify and learn more about community needs and how to address them through innovative programming and strategic partnerships. Business and entrepreneurship models are applied to human service and community improvement missions, and students learn the value of incorporating technology, marketing, social media, and other avenues into their macro-level intervention strategies to boost community buy-in, leverage resources and funding opportunities, and build impactful and multifaceted community programs.
- Policy and Advocacy for Social Change: This course examines policy-making at the local, state, and federal levels, as well as how the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government collaborate to implement social policies that impact the health of individuals, families, and entire communities. The history of social service policies, and their impact on vulnerable populations. How the social worker can advocate for the political rights and needs of vulnerable populations.
- Advanced Field Practicum: Building off of the foundation they developed in their first practicum, as well as the more advanced/specialized coursework they are taking, students complete an advanced field practicum experience that is more tailored to their desired area of work post-graduation. In addition, students take on more complex tasks and projects under the guidance of their field instructor.
- Advanced Integrative Field Seminar: In this seminar, students discuss their field education experiences and write reflective exercises concerning their learning outcomes during their practicum.
Curriculum Options for Online Macro MSW Programs
Many online programs offer students both full-time and part-time study options in order to provide them with maximum flexibility when completing their degree program. As online MSW programs are particularly popular with individuals who have to balance professional and/or personal obligations with their studies, the ability to enroll part-time or full-time allows students to tailor their course loads per term according to their availability (students should still keep in mind that most programs have minimum course credit requirements per term for full-time and part-time courses of study).
A full-time course of study for an MSW program generally takes about 24 months to complete, while a part-time program may take between 32 to 36 months or more, depending on students’ course load each term.
Below are sample full-time and part-time macro social work MSW curricula. Please note that these curriculum charts are intended to serve as informational examples only, and are not replicates of the exact curriculum of an existing online macro MSW program.
Full-Time Course Schedule for an Online Macro Social Work MSW Program (24 Months with Summer Sessions)
Part-Time Course Schedule for an Online Macro Social Work MSW Program (32 months with Summer Sessions)
Note: Some online MSW programs use a cohort model in which students progress through the program together as a group. Programs that use this model may offer set tracks for full-time and part-time students as opposed to allowing students to choose how many credits they take per term.
Field Education for Online Macro MSW Programs
All MSW programs, independent of specialization or delivery method (online vs on-campus), require students to complete field education in-person at a social work, human services, or health or social justice-related organization that has been approved by their program’s field education office. MSW programs vary in terms of how they manage the field placement matching process for their students. Some programs require students to find both their foundational field practicum and their advanced field practicum sites and supervisors, and to apply to their field director for approval only after conducting independent interviews with prospective sites and supervisors.
Other programs interview students first and then actively place their students with field practicum sites and supervisors that match their learning goals. Other programs combine the former and latter methods, by matching students for their first year but requiring them to determine their advanced field practicum site independently. For the most detailed and accurate information regarding how an online MSW program handles its students’ field placements, students should always contact a program administrator at their programs of interest.
Field practicum settings tend to vary depending on available positions in one’s region, one’s learning goals, and also the field education policies and procedures of one’s program. As a result, some students may engage in a macro-level social work practicum in their first foundational year, while other students might have a practicum that is more focused on direct social work practice; each scenario has its benefits. With a foundational macro-level social work internship, students can immediately start building their skills in program development, political advocacy, research, etc. that they wish to employ. With a foundational micro-level social work internship, students can gain valuable experience in working directly with vulnerable populations in ways that can greatly inform their work in their second, more advanced field practicum. It is highly encouraged that students speak with their academic advisor(s) to determine which types of field practicum settings would best support their professional goals.
For more information on field education for online MSW programs, including how to succeed in one’s foundational and advanced practicums, please refer to our comprehensive Guide to Field Education.
Note: For students interested in licensure in clinical social work following graduation, depending on the program, macro MSW programs may not provide the necessary coursework or field education experiences to meet licensing requirements. As licensing requirements vary by state, students who think they might be interested in pursuing licensure should review their state of residence’s licensing requirements and choose a program that provides the necessary training to meet those requirements.