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Teaching distribution planning: a problem-based learning approach

Alex Grasas (Department of Marketing, Operations and Supply, EADA Business School, Barcelona, Spain)
Helena Ramalhinho (Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain)

The International Journal of Logistics Management

ISSN: 0957-4093

Article publication date: 8 August 2016




The purpose of this paper is to present a problem-based learning (PBL) activity that uses a decision support system (DSS) to teach one of the most fundamental topics in distribution planning: vehicle routing.


The authors describe their teaching experience in a logistics and supply chain management (LSCM) course. In the PBL activity proposed, students need to solve a typical vehicle routing case with no previous theoretical background taught. The paper is written as a teaching guide for other instructors, detailing how the activity may be carried out in class.


The PBL activity involved students from the very beginning, challenging them to solve a rather complicated problem. Its acceptance was very positive according to the student feedback survey conducted after the activity. Only when struggling with the difficulties of the case proposed, did students really appreciate the potential value of a DSS for making better decisions. Moreover, this activity raised concerns about how DSSs must be adapted for implementation in every business scenario.


Teaching logistics management goes beyond lecturing on elemental concepts and tools; it is also about applying this knowledge to manage things. Although several PBL initiatives have been reported to be successful in the field of LSCM, this one incorporates a web-based DSS. The main issue in PBL activities is finding authentic and representative problems to develop transferable skills, and currently most logistics problems are solved using DSS.



The authors are thankful to Guillem Gimenez and Jaquelina Ogea for their collaboration in the project, and to Stephen J. Childe for his invaluable feedback. This work has been partially supported by the Centre for Teaching Quality and Innovation (CQUID) of Universitat Pompeu Fabra, and by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (TRA2013-48180-C3-2-P).


Grasas, A. and Ramalhinho, H. (2016), "Teaching distribution planning: a problem-based learning approach", The International Journal of Logistics Management, Vol. 27 No. 2, pp. 377-394.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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