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What Is the significance of Problem-Based Learning in MBA?

Written by: Dr. Veni Nair, Assistant Director- ITM Business School, Kharghar

Nowadays, to be a successful MBA, one needs to be an accomplished problem-solver. Problem solving is the key skill MBA students require on a day to day basis. They are continuously exposed to new and unexpected challenges which they have to overcome. Looking at this scenario, management education too has incorporated some radical changes in its pedagogy to prepare the students for the corporate world.

What Is Problem-Based Learning (PBL)?

Problem-based learning (PBL) is a student-centered pedagogy in which students learn about a subject through the experience of solving an open-ended problem. Students learn both thinking strategies and domain knowledge. PBL is an approach that challenges students to learn through engagement in a real problem. PBL makes a fundamental shift from focus on teaching to focus on learning.

There are several unique aspects that define the PBL approach:

  • Learning takes place within the contexts of authentic tasks, issues and problems that are aligned with real-world concerns
  • In a PBL course, students and the instructor become co-learners, co-planners, co-producers and co-evaluators as they design, implement and continually refine their curricula.
  • PBL is unique as it fosters collaboration among students, stresses the development of problem solving skills within the context of professional practice, promotes effective reasoning and self-directed learning, and is aimed at increasing motivation for life-long learning.

Origin of PBL and its use:

PBL originated from a curriculum reform by medical faculty at Case Western Reserve University in the late 1950s. Innovative medical and health science programs continued to evolve the practice of PBL, particularly the specific small group learning and tutorial process that was developed by medical faculty at McMaster University in Canada.

PBL has spread to over 50 medical schools, and has diffused into many other professional fields including law, economics, architecture, mechanical and civil engineering, as well as in K-12 curricula. And the entire MBA program at Ohio University has been designed as an integrated curriculum using the PBL approach.

Why PBL?

Traditional education practices, starting from kindergarten through college, tend to produce students who are often bored with their education. They are faced with a vast amount of information to memorize, much of which seems irrelevant to the world as it exists outside of school. Traditional classrooms also do not prepare students to work with others in collaborative team situations. One of the greatest advantages of PBL is that students genuinely enjoy the process of learning through PBL.

How Does PBL Work?

The problem-solving process can be summarized in three broad steps:

Phase 1. "What do we already know? The learners will discuss the current situation surrounding the problem as it has been presented. For example - A case study or situation in a company is provided.

Phase 2. "What do we need to know (to solve this problem)?" It is in this phase that the learners will analyze the problem into components, discussing implications, entertaining possible explanations or solutions, and developing working hypotheses. For example - The management concepts or theories are applied wherever applicable to solve the problems.

Phase 3. "What should we do?" It is in this phase that the learners identify and allocate learning tasks, develop study plans to discover needed information. For example - Solutions to the problems in the case are outlined.

Though a very effective learning method, it too comes with its challenges. The major limitation is that it is time consuming and lack of competent instructors to conduct the session well. And in this era of information overload, it is very difficult to filter the right information.

In spite of the aforementioned limitations, the beneficial effects of problem-based learning should not be underestimated. It can make students' learning experience very interesting and give students a very fascinating or enthralling learning experience.

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