Logistics is regarded as an area of high importance in business, contributing to profitability and competitiveness. Logistics is crucial also from a societal perspective, since logistical activities count for a big proportion of a country’s GNP, and since effective logistics systems can help reducing some of the environmental problems we face today. Higher education has an important role to play in order to provide business and society with well-educated logistics personnel. Since not much research is published within higher education in logistics, the purpose of this thesis was defined as:
To contribute to the knowledge on teaching and learning logistics in higher education.
More specifically, two research questions were set up:
RQ1: What knowledge and skills are important for students to learn during highereducation in logistics? RQ2: How can students’ learning of these skills and knowledge be facilitated?
A comprehensive literature review serves as a basis for the study. The literature on logistics education gives limited guidance concerning what is to be learned during higher education in logistics, as well as how to facilitate learning within logistics. These findings indicate that the logistics teaching faculty do not base their course designs and teaching practices on solid knowledge on what and how to teach.
Although a major finding of my work is that more research is needed, some more concrete propositions can be made. In order to reach some kind of answers to the research questions, a selection of pedagogical theories was applied on logistics education with help from illustrating examples, partly found in literature, and partly from specific studies performed as part of this thesis.
Concerning the first research question, I propose a tentative model, illustrating how different logistics knowledge and skills can be positioned against each other. A division is made between subject-specific and generic knowledge and skills, and two core generic skills within logistics are proposed: Total cost analysis and Structured investigation method.
From pedagogical literature, the concept of thresholds was introduced. A threshold refers to something that is troublesome for students to overcome, but once passed leads to a new way of understanding. The identification of the thresholds associated with acquiring important knowledge and skills, is therefore important for teachers. Some thresholds concerning logistics education are discussed in the thesis. For the two core generic skills proposed above, it is suggested that ‘case-specific adaptation of total cost models’ is a threshold for total cost analysis, and ‘investigation planning’ is suggested as a threshold for structured investigation method.
The question of how something can be learned is dependent on what is to be learned. Since there is a lack of clear answers concerning the what, the second research question (focusing the how) is difficult to answer in a concrete manner. On a general level, some findings were found though.
Logistics is a discipline where education has strong emphasis on usefulness for the workinglife. Problem- and practice-based instructional methods are therefore recommended to create learning situations, where learning is extended from theoretical models as such, to their application in realistic settings. Reflection upon the appropriateness of the models then becomes essential. The use of educational games, simulation, and field-based projects are examples of such methods.
In pedagogical literature, the term pedagogical content knowledge addresses the need for teachers to know the subject-matter (the content) in a way that makes it possible for him/her to make it understandable for the students. This kind of knowledge is built up from a number of knowledge components. One of those concerns knowledge about what is troublesome for students, which bridges over to the previously described threshold concepts. Another component is knowledge of students’ pre-understanding. An example of a method for capturing such pre-understanding is given in the thesis. Given that a teacher knows the subject-matter, the students pre-understanding, and some other contextual factors, a good knowledge on how to instruct and assess the students is crucial. The instructional methods are to a big extent case-specific, but as indicated above, problem- and practice-based methods are often to recommend within logistics education.
Based on the findings and discussions in this study, a number of suggestions for future research are proposed. Among those is the need to identify the thresholds connected to learning core logistical knowledge, and to investigate appropriate instructional methods for helping students to overcome these thresholds.
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2014. , 93 p.
2014-11-04, ACAS, A-huset, Campus Valla, Linköpings universitet, Linköping, 10:15 (Swedish)