Problem-based Learning in Management
In the last couple of months, I have been immersed in tertiary education as my daughter begins the long journey of becoming a neuroscientist. She’s chosen the Netherlands and focused on two institutions in particular – Erasmus University in Rotterdam and Maastricht University who both adhere to the problem-based learning system.
It led me to question why Problem-based Learning (PBL) is not used more extensively in Management training.
WHAT IS PBL? It is a student-centered pedagogy in where students learn through the experience of solving an open-ended problem. So, they learn to think strategically through engagement with a real problem. The fundamental shift is to focus on learning rather than teaching.
As Philip Hallinger and Edwin Bridges*state, PBL originated from a curriculum reform at the medical faculty at Case Western Reserve University, in the late 1950s. In their book, A problem-based approach for management education: Preparing managers for action, Hallinger and Bridges draw attention to the fact that MBA students do not have sufficient experience and that the curriculum is organised around the delivery of functional knowledge. So, students graduate with the impression that management is analysis and the formulation of deliberate strategies.
All experienced managers know however, that leading your team is far more than that. So what can be done? We are not able to change the curriculum of tertiary education nor is it our job. We can make a difference however, by running the company with PBL in mind and implementing some of following PBL strategies:
- ROUND TABLE MEETINGS: Ensure that relevant managers of departments meet together weekly.
- IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM TO SOLVE: Everybody should be advised of the issue and be asked to come up with solutions. Managers should revert to their teams to ask their opinions.
- RESEARCH THE PROBLEM: It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel each time – look at what other companies have done to resolve similar issues and tailor make a solution fitting your criteria. The ability to work independently is essential. Everybody’s opinion is important.
- TIME LIMITS: Enforce a time constraint for everyone to revert back with their solutions.
- FIND SOLUTIONS: Meet again, allow all suggestions to be put on the table and most importantly, how to implement it. This is the responsibility of the manager/leader to make. However, they lead with all the information and suggested solutions in front of them.
I can image many managers reading this throwing their arms up in horror believing that they don’t have time to follow such a strategy. It will be time consuming the first time, until the process becomes familiar and may not work in all cases. However, in smaller and medium sized businesses, it empowers the employees to feel that they are an integral part of the company. It makes them feel that their opinion is important and can be verbalized.
PBL allows the team to follow through on how to implement the conclusions and recommendations for the solution. It will also highlight to management, who the future leaders of the team will be, as PBL requires group collaboration, critical thinking, and the ability to work independently.
Research Source: Hallinger, Philip & Bridges, Edwin. (2007). A problem-based approach for management education: Preparing managers for action. 10.1007/978-1-4020-5756-4