Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

Problem-Based Learning in Managerial Economics with an Integrated Case Study

Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

Problem-Based Learning in Managerial Economics with an Integrated Case Study

Article excerpt


A number of pedagogical challenges arise in teaching managerial economics courses at the upper undergraduate and M.B.A. levels. One of them is the fact that the economics component in business curriculum may be seen as a theoretical standout in comparison to the more applied business disciplines. Students may fail to see real-life application of course concepts and lose their motivation. One solution recommended in the economics education literature is case-based learning (Becker and Watts, 1995, 1998; Christensen and Hansen, 1987). A number of studies (Carlson and Schodt, 1995; Carlson and Velenchik, 2006) suggest that case-based learning (CBL) serves as a way of increasing student involvement, motivation, and learning in the economics classroom.

Another popular pedagogical strategy that originated outside of the business and economics fields and is also aimed at enhancing real-life application of theoretical concepts is problem-based learning (PBL). PBL was originally designed in medical education to address the lack of problem-solving skills in medical students (Savery 2006). In contrast to the traditional lecture-based model, PBL uses realistic problems and case studies to structure student learning around problem solving. Utilizing the PBL approach encourages students to learn not only from the instructor but also from their peers. The role of the instructor is transformed to that of a mediator. Existing empirical evidence on the impact of PBL (Dochy et al., 2003) demonstrates a positive effect on learning and problem-solving skills. Some studies in fact claim that PBL is "perhaps the most innovative instructional method conceived in the history of education" (Hung et al., 2008, p. 486).

While the implementation of CBL and such pedagogies as team-based learning (TBL) has been studied extensively in the business and economics education literature, studies on the implementation of PBL in those fields are sparse, particularly for M.B.A. courses. In this study, we present a teaching approach that integrates PBL into an M.B.A. managerial economics course at multiple points over the semester. To our knowledge, this is the first attempt to document and assess the use of the PBL approach to such a cohort. It is important to note that the M.B.A. audience is different from secondary-level or even undergraduate-level cohorts which were the focus of prior research on PBL in business and economics (Ravitz and Mergendoller, 2005; Smith and Ravitz, 2008). On one hand, M.B.A. students are usually mature, practically minded, motivated, and willing to engage, which makes them good candidates for the PBL method. On the other hand, prior studies recorded a diminishing positive effect of PBL on learning (Ravitz and Mergendoller, 2005). In other words, the biggest gain in educational goal attainment was observed among weaker students whereas the effect on stronger students was positive but insignificant. That finding may question the effectiveness of PBL in the M.B.A. classroom. The desire to examine this combination of factors has motivated our study.

The primary contribution of this study is in detailing how the PBL-based pedagogical approach is applied in the M.B.A. economics course. Furthermore, our implementation of PBL used an integrated case study to frame the students' learning experience. Our pedagogical approach thus integrated elements of the case study method with PBL. We tested this pedagogical method at two business schools over several semesters. A secondary contribution of this study is in using assessment of student learning performed in eight sections of managerial economics courses to evaluate the impact of PBL. Our analysis of assessment results suggests a robust positive impact of this integration of PBL.

The paper proceeds in the following fashion. The next section reviews the pedagogical foundations of problem-based learning. The third section describes our integration of PBL into the managerial economics curriculum. …

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