Enhancing Simulation Performance using Experiential Learning Logs in an Undergraduate Business Capstone

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Brief Abstract

Leveraging the LMS, a simulation, cases, technological tools, and pedagogically sound teaching creates scalable, flexible, personalized, scaffolded, experiential learning combined with repeated reflection. Instructors use templates, customize activities, materials, cases, tutorials, examples, and scenarios aligned with learning objectives to fit student and content needs for improved simulation performance and learning.

Presenters

Dr. Tawnya Means is the Assistant Dean for Educational Innovation and Chief Learning Officer in the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Prior to this role, Tawnya served as the Assistant Dean and Director of the Teaching and Learning Center for the College of Business at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Director of the Teaching and Learning Center at the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida, leading teaching and learning support and providing faculty development programs and resources for instructional innovation and adoption of pedagogical best practices. With 20 years of experience in higher education, course design, and educational consulting, Tawnya has also taught courses in entrepreneurship, strategy, technology, and leadership in remote teams. Dr. Means received her B.S. in Education, M.S. in Educational Technology, and Ph.D. in Information Science and Learning Technologies with an emphasis on learning systems design, all from the University of Missouri. She completed the AACSB Post-doctoral bridge program in Management and Entrepreneurship at the University of Florida. Her research interests are in online and blended learning, active learning, learning space design, technology for teaching, access to digital learning resources, and faculty preparation to teach. She has long been a leader in campus initiatives and committees and actively presents at conferences and other institutions and organizations on technology-enhanced learning.

Extended Abstract

Leveraging the LMS, a simulation, cases, technological tools, and pedagogically sound teaching creates scalable, flexible, personalized, scaffolded, experiential learning combined with repeated reflection in capstone courses. Instructors use templates, and customize log activities, course materials, cases, tutorials, examples, and scenarios aligned with learning objectives to fit student and content needs for improved simulation performance and learning. Combining the use of a simulation and Experiential Learning Log activities based on Dewey's philosophical approach to learning and Kolb's theory of learning through experiences overcomes traditional limitations of experiential learning in terms of cost, coordination, and lack of student choice. 

The Experiential Learning Log as an enhancement to the simulation was developed and implemented first in a fully online, five-week term, in Summer 2020 with 97 students. The log was refined and updated (adding the requirement of students creating a plan for completion, updating and clarifying requirements, submission instructions, and guidelines, rubrics and scoring methods, and updating templates) and is currently being used in a blended format, full-semester course in Fall 2020 with 36 honors-level students. This demonstrates that the simulation and experiential learning log combination can be customized and adjusted to meet a variety of learning contexts. The data collected from using the Experiential Learning Log is from Fall 2020. The course will also be offered Spring and Summer 2021 and data collection is ongoing.

Experiential Learning Log activities are scalable, personalized, and experiential, use mastery learning, encourage reflective behaviors, and improve overall performance in the simulation and in the course. They are directly aligned with learning objectives and provide students with options for which assignments they will complete. Templates for assignments scaffold learning, provide structure to the assignment, and simplify grading and feedback. Specifications help to streamline grading as the assignments have specific criteria for a “complete” score. An incomplete score requires students to review the criteria and make corrections before resubmitting. 

In the Experiential Learning Log, students are presented with three categories of activities: Basic, Moderate, and Advanced. The basic log activities are designed to be shorter and simpler activities (e.g. conduct “flash” interviews, debrief a department in the simulation, create a profile on the alumni network, etc.). The moderate log activities are more involved (e.g. connect with an alumni, read and compare two articles, conduct a market or competitive analysis, etc.). The advanced log activities are even more extensive (e.g. case analysis, creating a podcast, collaborating with a peer to review simulation performance, etc.). Students earn points for each activity, with a maximum number of points in each category. Students create a plan for their learning, choose which log activities they will complete, and report regularly on their plan status. 

The Experiential Learning Log includes simulation related and non-simulation related activities. Students who chose to complete more Experiential Learning Log activities directly related to the simulation performed significantly better in the simulation and the course than students who chose to complete more activities unrelated to the simulation, indicating that combining the simulation and related log experiences has greater impact. 

In the simulation, students select a strategy and make decisions in interconnected departments, with automated “year-end” reports, scoring, and performance debriefing. Progressing through training, practice, individual decisions, debrief, reflection, team competition decisions, and an analyst call, students are scaffolded and supported in learning to make and analyze decisions and adjust performance. The aligned Experiential Learning Log activities give students guidelines and direct their review of simulation reports to improve their performance.

Full-length cases, mini-cases, tutorials on forecasting, automation, sales and promo budget spending, etc., and scenarios can bring in opportunities for instructor and student creativity as well as the ambiguity found in the real world, and cause students to reflect on the impact of the decisions that they make (e.g. adding automation can lead to layoffs, moving the company headquarters can impact the community, etc.). The combination of experiential learning, simulation, and accompanying course materials leads to better performance in the simulation and in the course overall.

According to Kolb (1984), “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.” Kolb’s experiential learning cycle includes concrete experience (doing/having experience), reflective observation (reviewing/reflecting on experience), abstract conceptualization (concluding/learning from experience), active experimentation (planning/trying out what you have learned), and repeating the cycle. Students are learning as they complete the simulation, but those who completed even more concrete experiences through the log directly aligned with their simulation experiences were even more successful.

Experiential learning is not a new concept, but most experiential learning is not scalable or customizable. Courses that primarily leverage lectures (even when they include discussion and case analysis) are not as engaging or application-based. While it is not realistic to have students run actual companies, and it is difficult to source live cases or real projects, students need to have as authentic an experience as possible, particularly in a capstone course. Specific examples of high-impact experiential learning suggested by Gollwitzer, Mack, & Mack (2017) include project-based learning in senior and entry-level courses, internships, and study abroad. However, limiting factors of cost, coordination, and student choice in learning experiences all indicate a need to find solutions to overcome these limitations. For business schools that do not have the resources to implement internship programs, study abroad, or project-based curriculum, they suggest ePortfolios as one potential tool to allow students to collect artifacts throughout their program of study. The Experiential Learning Log is similar to an ePortfolio as it is a collection of learning experiences and reflections.

The challenges of organizing and delivering experiential learning in various delivery modes in undergraduate professional programs such as business are particularly difficult, and frequently require significant instructor time to build engagement. Traditional capstone courses often limit enrollment as they require a great deal of time and effort for instructor grading, feedback, and coordination. 

Simulations can provide opportunities for authentic and application-based learning but are not as impactful without repeated reflection and integration into other meaningful activities. Taking advantage of the simulated experience of managing a firm is valuable to students, but without reflection and critique, they miss out on opportunities for further growth. Using Experiential Learning Log activities to require further analysis and reflection leads to better performance and learning.

Simulations also leave students thinking that decisions are primarily numbers-driven, as algorithms do not deal with the human components and impacts of leadership decisions. Case studies require more time and grading and can be limited in the impact on student learning if students do not connect the lessons in the case to their experiences. Typical experiential learning (e.g. study abroad, live cases, project-based learning) are messy, time-consuming for the instructor, and challenging to coordinate and manage. Smaller enrollments can lead to course progress bottlenecks and inconsistencies in teaching and assessment.

Student feedback indicates that they recognize the value of combined experiences. The students reported the simulation helped them: 

  • realize what they did not know

  • spend extra time developing understanding and enjoying learning

  • recognize the interconnectedness of departments and decisions

  • grow in confidence after making all the decisions themselves 

Students reported that the Experiential Learning Log activities:

  • gave them different perspectives and deeper understanding of business

  • got them out of their comfort zone

  • were enjoyable

  • helped them perform better in the simulation 

Students report that they enjoyed the Experiential Learning Log and the simulation. Students complete a reflection activity at the end of the course where they were asked to identify two lessons learned from the activities they completed. Of the student reflections in Summer 2020, the following percent reported the most important lessons learned as: 

  • 75.2% from the simulation 

  • 69.9% from various experiential learning log activities 

  • 16.1% from the case analysis 

  • 12.9% from the industry analyst call (a peer small-group discussion in Zoom requiring reporting and analysis of overall simulation performance) 

  • 23.7% from other course activities (quizzes, Zoom class sessions, online discussions)

Beyond feedback from reflection on lessons learned, a couple of sample student emails indicate further benefits: “I would like to thank you professor for giving me the opportunity to make up for mistakes that I have made throughout this course. I know I won't be as lucky in the professional world but working with you has given me the wake up call that I needed. I need to continue to improve in many areas and you helped me realize some of these issues. For that, I am forever grateful. Thank you professor!” Another student was inspired to go beyond expectations to create a dashboard to share with other students: “First of all, thank you for your sincere instruction during the course. Your kind feedback after the assignment submission helped me to sustain my motivation. After all, while I am doing the simulation, for sake of convenience, I made a summary report from the practice rounds to Round 5 and I think this might help other people to reflect on their performance. … I would like to ask you whether this could be helpful for the others and if so, can I share this template...”

Gollwitzer, Mack, & Mack (2017) wrote that “At the most basic level, Dewey believed that for someone to find their natural aptitudes that benefit society, they must have novel and useful experiences. He believed that true learning and productive thought did not come from passively absorbing information, but from the combination of an active and passive element.” (p. 8). They also wrote that “Experiential learning defines a process in which a student has a valuable, novel experience, reflects on that experience, and draws concepts which can be applied to future experiences.” (p. 11). At its core, experiential learning is applicable to almost any context. The challenge is to make that process scalable and flexible. The Experiential Learning Log is designed upon the concept of scalability, flexibility, adaptability, and application to different contexts. The simulation selected could be any fitting the instructor and student needs and the concept of the Experiential Learning Log is valid in all contexts. Activities within the log can be adjusted, adapted, or replaced with what makes sense for the context/subject/instructor preference. Using templates streamlines the grading and feedback, creating fast scalability. The templates increase scalability without decreasing personalization and individualization for the instructor and the students. Once the instructor has developed these materials, they can be adapted and reused.

Since the Experiential Learning Log is based on being flexible and scalable, there are many directions in which its use can be expanded and be applicable to other contexts. First, it can grow in instructional use. As a single instructor, I am continually evaluating and enhancing course materials, course activities, and communications to students about their performance. The data collected is informing me of ways to improve my instructional practices to enhance the learning experiences of my students. As a member of a department, college, university, and the profession of higher education, I am sharing these instructional practices with others and encouraging others to incorporate these concepts into their teaching. This innovation also has value to the body of research on learning. There are many important questions that this data, as it is further collected and carefully analyzed, can help answer in terms of the cognitive psychology of learning. These questions will take more time to generate, evaluate, collect data to answer, and engage with the community to explore. Working with universities, colleges, departments, and instructors to develop Experiential Learning Log activities can improve the employability and confidence of students as they graduate their programs. This presentation will seek for others to implement Experiential Learning Log activities in their teaching and collect data for further analysis.

 

References 

Gollwitzer, Zach; Mack, Callie; and Mack, Brenna, "Experiential Learning and its Place in a Quality Business Education" (2017). Honors Research Projects. 553.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Footnote:

Simulation-related activities included: Department debrief, Department in action, Competitive analysis, Market analysis, Collaborate with a peer, SWOT analysis. 

Non-simulation related activities included: Lead a discussion topic, Course Reflection, Join Husker Connect and create a profile, Use Husker Connect with alumni, Use Husker Connect to send a message, Zoom call with an alumni, Flash Interview, Scheduled interview, Podcast interview, Comparing two strategy articles, Inbox + Individual development plan.