Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Enhancing Learning Outcomes through Experiential Learning: Using Open-Source Systems to Teach Enterprise Systems and Business Process Management

Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Enhancing Learning Outcomes through Experiential Learning: Using Open-Source Systems to Teach Enterprise Systems and Business Process Management

Article excerpt


Enterprise systems, also called enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, play a vital role in modern business. Consequently, ERP education has become an important aspect of general information systems business or management curriculum. Integration of ERP systems into graduate and undergraduate business courses has been widely reported (Bradford, Vijayaraman, and Chandra, 2003; Rosemann and Watson, 2002; Strong et al., 2006; Winkelmann and Leyh, 2010). While the business benefits of these systems are easy to describe, they are difficult for students, especially those at an early stage in the degree program, to fully appreciate without hands-on experience. This hands-on experience can be provided through the pedagogy of experiential learning.

Experiential learning is a "more effective and long-lasting form of learning" that "involves the learner by creating a meaningful learning experience," (Beard and Wilson, 2006, p. 1) and "learning from experience is one of the most fundamental and natural means of learning available," (Beard and Wilson, 2006, p. 15). The benefits of hands-on, experiential learning with ERP systems have been shown in many situations (Alavi, 1994; Kim, Hsu, and Stern, 2006; Sager et al., 2006), and advances in pedagogical approaches place emphasis on learning-by-doing (Bok, 1986; Auster and Wylie, 2006).

To our knowledge, few Canadian universities provide any experiential learning on ERP systems. Instead, these programs rely on passive learning where students are unable to experience fully the capabilities and organizational impacts that ERP systems provide. In fact, passive learning, such as through lectures, has been shown to be inferior to experiential learning (Kolb and Kolb, 2005).

This paper presents our experiences of providing experiential learning opportunities on an ERP system in the business undergraduate curriculum as part of a course improvement project in order to add to the existing knowledge of the learning outcomes of hands-on ERP system use in the classroom. We targeted two core business courses as part of this project--Information Systems (IS) and Business Process Management (BPM). In the IS course we demonstrated and provided hands-on opportunities with the ERP system, and in the BPM course we demonstrated how business process automation and ERP systems can be integrated to best support operational business processes.

While ERP education has been recognized as important, many academic institutions cannot afford commercial ERP systems, such as SAP, for teaching purposes. Even with educational discounts, the maintenance and training costs often put these systems out of reach for most academic institutions (Hawking and McCarthy, 2004; Watson and Schneider, 1999). The costs are even more difficult to justify when systems are only used in select courses as opposed to throughout the entire curriculum. In contrast to the realities in the teaching space, most of the 20 articles published between 2000 and 2011 in the Journal of Information Systems Education on ERP teaching methodology used an ERP system provided by the market-leader in the enterprise IT field, SAP, and none reported using an open-source system until 2011 when Ayyagari (2011) provided their experiences with using an open-source ERP system in the classroom.

This paper presents the findings of our study on learning outcomes resulting from the introduction of experiential learning opportunities with an open-source ERP system in the IS and the BPM undergraduate business courses. The authors are happy to provide specific advice on implementing the Odoo system in a classroom setting and many of the practical, hands-on "lessons learned" to the interested reader.

The active, experiential learning was expected to increase student understanding, engagement, learning, and interest in learning about enterprise systems in the IS course and workflow management systems (WMS) in the BPM course. …

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