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An Experience From a Thai Management School

Chatchai Chatpinyakoop


The traditional way of learning relies upon the sharing of lessons from the past. Sometimes, however, the situation being addressed is unique and the past does not provide a good solution. Experience- or problem-based learning offers greater promise in these instances.

Problem-based learning (PBL) is a learner-centered teaching method where learners collaborate in team problem solving and share what they learned through their experiences. The motivation of learning in PBL comes from the significant involvement of learners in the problem situation. Such participation serves to initiate learners' process of knowledge inquiry and understanding. Learners can focus and enjoy their study through this process. Learners create their own knowledge by constructing or creating something by themselves, a product of the interaction between the person and the environment. The new knowledge from the learner's experience will be assimilated with the existing knowledge, then combined and accommodated into the learner's new body of knowledge.


This paper will discuss the practical application of PBL with computer simulation in the university learning environment. A graduate school of management in Thailand adopted PBL in the course "Consulting Practice: Organizational Change" (CPOC), which has as its objectives the understanding of how to think about change and manage implementation (Hal-linger, 2005). The course utilized a computer simulation called "Making Change Happen" invented by Hallinger and Bridges (2007).

The computer simulation required learners to manage the change process of an organization seeking to implement new software in 3 pilot branches with 24 staff over a 3 year time horizon. The implementation budget available for each year is limited, less available, and nontransferable into consecutive years. The team assignment had two goals: to maximize the number of routine users of this new software and improve the overall effectiveness of the organization measured as "bennies" in the simulation. The theory and rationale was not provided at this initial stage; it was only summarized through learner's direct experience at the end of the course.

The set up of the learning environment of this course was intended to be in small group. Learners worked in groups no larger than three persons. The small group environment provided natural motivation with low pressure and a friendlier learning atmosphere. Larger groups were not encouraged because it reduces the quality of idea sharing and discussion flow. Each team sets their ultimate goals for the end of the 3 year simulation, and then prepares their strategy and implementation plan for the first year. Learners usually experiment with different plans and activities. The plan may not always be successful on its first attempt. At this stage, learners will learn to manage and handle the changes systemically and learn the best sequence for managing change, specifically what should be done first, what can be done later, and appreciate the whole implementation process.

The computer simulation evaluates interactively each group's decisions and provides on-screen feedback. Feedback also depends on the team's earlier moves and their overall progress in addressing the problem. Learners learn from consequences of their decisions and use this feedback in group discussion to modify their team's strategy. The discussion is another important aspect of the learning opportunity. Small group discussion facilitates development of a better strategy than solving the problem alone would allow. Through observation of the feedback to their short term planning, learners can analyze their progress to their goal and set the plan for next move. This is the debugging stage of learning and is analogous to the "check" and "act" in Deming's (2000) plan-do-check-act cycle.

When learners solve the situation, they see themselves as the real consultant solving the problem for this organization. This is evidence of the immersive environment of the simulation; participants take on the perspective of someone actually in the situation portrayed. In this manner, learners better understand the results from their own practice in simulation. After a few classes, with all teams practicing through the end of year three, the lecturer will allow every team to visit other teams to observe and exchange their practical experiences. The lecturer may guide learners to observe why different teams, starting with similar ultimate goals and resources, can come up with different consequences at the end of year three. This is because each team utilized a different strategy and more than one solution exists to the problem.

Student practice the simulation with their team for 6 weeks. Finally, the groups summarize their learning through a team-based report, which analyzes their group's approach to change management over the 3 year time horizon of the simulation. Each learner also wrote an individual reflective essay, to demonstrate how they applied lessons learned with real experience. The lecturer then combines the lessons learned with relevant theories of change management and summarizes the key lessons at the end of the course. The lecturer then explains the lessons by reference to examples from the simulation that everyone has now experienced, making it easier to follow the conclusion. The teacher may discuss both good and bad decisions.

Within the simulation, the theories, concepts and process of change management can be more readily understood when applied to a real life setting. One student participating in the simulation remarked in the course evaluation,

I really like the simulation. It's a great tool to help us understand theory and at the same time we can try the wrong choice (trial and error) to see the next result (what will happen). Better to make mistakes here than at work. (Hallinger & Bridges, 2007, p. 194)

Advance of technology during the past 10 years greatly enhance the potential of PBL. Telesco (2006) also supports this idea. He noticed that theorists argue that when participants are engaged in a reality-based scenario, there is an ability to move out of the cognitive realm into the emotional where attitudes and feelings can be tapped into and education and change can be stimulated. With this evidence, it can be confirmed that the problem-based learning is another interesting learning approach for management learning.

The advantage of problem-based learning from the application with computer simulation in this chapter can be summarized with reference to the propositions of Kolb and Kolb's (2005) experience-based learning theory and evidences in the CPOC simulation as follows:

1. Learning is best understood as a continuous process.

Evidence: Lessons can be learned from every stage of the process, from preimplementation planning through project completion and reflection.

2. All learning is relearning.

Evidence: Mistakes provide good lessons. Through trial and error, participants reach decisions with minimal pressure, as bad decisions do not incur negative costs.

3. Conflict, differences, and disagreement are what drive the learning process. Evidence: Organization's problem required finding the solution. Solutions come through an understanding of the situation and practical application, not just the best solution.

4. Learning is a holistic process of adaptation to the world.

Evidence: Learners solve the problem better when understanding the whole situation and background of the organization, people, business environment and situation.

5. Learning is the result from interactions between the person and the environment.

Evidence: Today's technology, an interactive computer simulation, can greatly enhance learning. In the CPOC simulation, the algorithm shuffles and randomizes the feedback based on the current situation. Learners will base their decision from this information.

6. Learning is the process of creating knowledge.

Evidence: Personal knowledge can be generated by the learner. With this, the learner can gain a deep understanding and easily retain the key objectives of the lesson. In CPOC, learners realize how the outcome is shaped by their own previous decisions.


Advances in technology offer great possibilities to enhance student learning. Through PBL, learners better comprehend the whole picture, understand the connections, and can apply to a real situation. As a result, PBL is an education tool that raises the motivation for learning, and facilitates lifelong self development. PBL is an interesting learning approach that creates the "plearn" experience to learner. In Thai, plearn means enjoy. Plearn, here, is "play" and "learn" (Samudavanija, 1999). So, learning can be an enjoyable activity, which enhances its effectiveness.


Deming, W. E. (2000). Out of the crisis. MA: MIT Press.

Hallinger, P. (2005). Consulting practice: Organizational change (CMMU lecture note). Bangkok: College of Management Mahidol University.

Hallinger, P., & Bridges, E. M. (2007). A problem-based approached for management education: Preparing managers for action. Dordrecht: Springer. Kolb, A. Y., & Kolb, D. (2005).

Learning styles and learning spaces: Enhancing experiential learning in higher education. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 4(2), 193-212.

Problem-based learning. (2010, July 20). In Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.

Retrieved from Samudavanija, C. (1999). Plearn Puea Roo [Enjoyment for learning]. Bangkok: Vajiravudh College.

Telesco, G. A. (2006). Using sociodrama for radical pedagogy: Methodology for education and change. Retrieved from content/issue8_2/ telesco.html

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