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2023/2024  KAN-CCMVV2322U  Theory-Based Learning: How to Evaluate Ideas for Coping with Today's Big Challenges

English Title
Theory-Based Learning: How to Evaluate Ideas for Coping with Today's Big Challenges

Course information

Language English
Course ECTS 7.5 ECTS
Type Elective
Level Full Degree Master
Duration One Quarter
Start time of the course First Quarter
Timetable Course schedule will be posted at calendar.cbs.dk
Study board
Study Board for cand.merc. and GMA (CM)
Course coordinator
  • Timo Ehrig - Department of Strategy and Innovation (SI)
Main academic disciplines
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Innovation
  • Strategy
Teaching methods
  • Blended learning
Last updated on 16-02-2023

Relevant links

Learning objectives
After the course it is expected that the participants can:
  • describe and explain a set of core theoretical insights from research on how strategists can evaluate ideas to cope with big challenges
  • apply these insights successfully in entrepreneurial and corporate settings
Prerequisites for registering for the exam (activities during the teaching period)
Number of compulsory activities which must be approved (see section 13 of the Programme Regulations): 1
Compulsory home assignments
The student must get approval for 1 out of 2 assignments in order to attend the ordinary exam.

Both assignments are written in a group but is evaluated individually. The group members must prepare a statement that outlines each individual's contribution to the assignment. The assignment is evaluated internally on a pass/fail basis. The purpose of the assignments is to provide students feedback concerning their ability to use the competencies gained in the course.

The student will not have extra attempts to get the required number of compulsory activities approved prior to the ordinary exam. If the student has not received approval for the required number of compulsory activities or has been ill, the student cannot participate in ordinary exam. Prior to the retake the student will be given an extra attempt. The extra attempt is a 10 page home assignment that will cover the required number of compulsory activities. If approved, the student will be able to attend retake. Please note that students must have made an effort in the allocated assignments thoughout the course. Students that do not participate in the assignments (no show/U) are not entitled to the extra assignment and will have to wait until the next ordinary exam to complete the course.
Theory-Based Learning: How to Evaluate Ideas for Coping with Today's Big Challenges:
Exam ECTS 7,5
Examination form Home assignment - written product
Individual or group exam Individual exam
Size of written product Max. 15 pages
Assignment type Scientific paper
Release of assignment Subject chosen by students themselves, see guidelines if any
Duration 2 weeks to prepare
Grading scale 7-point grading scale
Examiner(s) One internal examiner
Exam period Autumn
Make-up exam/re-exam
Same examination form as the ordinary exam
The assignment for the re-exam is the same as for the initial exam. If the student fails the ordinary exam the course coordinator chooses whether the student will have to hand in a revised product for the re- take or a new project.
Course content, structure and pedagogical approach

Today's big challenges, such as climate change, inflation, or new political instabilities, not just matter for political decision-making, but also for decision-making in start-up and corporate contexts. For instance, which start-up ideas create successful, and swift responses to the current energy crisis? And which ones will create lasting value, beyond the current crisis? How can this be evaluated? Moreover, how can corporates develop sound foresight about business models that will newly emerge, for instance, against the backdrop of climate change?
Addressing these questions requires coping with radical uncertainty, and in particular, the skill to re-learn when environments changed profoundly in little time. This form of uncertainty is different from uncertainty (and complexity in decision-making) per se, as contingencies are often unknowable. Courses of action that appear rational today, but that may be rendered obsolete tomorrow: Re-learning is key.
The unique contribution of this elective is to offer rigorous insights from cutting-edge research into successful strategies for coping with radical uncertainty, combined with case-based learning to make the insights vivid.
From a theoretical perspective, this course offers insights into the state-of-the-art of research into the psychology of radical uncertainty and the theory-based learning approach. Theory-based learning is a systematic and normative approach to evaluating big ideas that are postulated to solve big challenges. It rests on asking what must be true to make a big idea true, that is, on formulating a theory, experimenting with subproblems, and learning from feedback on subproblems along with arguments against the theory. The specialty of the approach is that it enables re-learning: In case of failure with subproblems, theories do not have to be discarded in toto, but can be revised using normative rules. That also differentiates theory-based learning from scenario planning and related approaches.
Theory-based learning offers the backbone for a study of concrete cases (some of which will be “real-time” cases, of which the outcome is not known at the time of the elective). Thus, the course contains a significant experiential element where students can learn via cases that may affect their actual decision-making in 2023 and 2024. These hands-on experiences will then be reflected through academic literature and in-class case discussion. The final exam combines these theoretical and case elements.
The course will emphasize open discussions and will use a mixture of theory and case studies to engage students in the classroom. To have an optimal mix between theory and practice, 11 lectures of each 2 hours will be accompanied by 9 case presentation sessions of 1 hour each. Topics and readings for each session are published as course outlines via Canvas.

Description of the teaching methods
The eleven lectures are to a large extent literature-based and will also incorporate short cases to discuss some of the challenges of the evaluation of ideas under radical uncertainty. We intend to engage in a dialogue-based teaching approach. Thus, to gain the most benefit from class sessions students should be prepared to take an active part in class discussions and to prepare the readings thoroughly.

We boost the interactive components of the course by incorporating case presentations of students. Students will form groups to present cases that are assigned in the first two lectures. Each student will be responsible for one slide in a case presentation. This slide is the mandatory assignment that must be passed to get admission to the final exam.
Feedback during the teaching period
The design of the course follows a proactive feedback philosophy by ex-ante mirroring the exam. Students are repeatedly exposed to learning objectives and exam sub-tasks. In particular, students will receive detailed feedback after their case presentation (the mandatory assignment). Moreover, we will discuss writing samples of the students in class to give students a clear idea on how their final exams will be graded.

In related preparation sessions, students can ask for detailed feedback on their performance. Hence, they have opportunities for feedback all along the course, and well before they enter the actual exam. Parts of the final lecture are used to recap material, provide overarching feedback, and invite detailed student questions.
Student workload
Classroom 30 hours
Classroom preparation (readings, cases) 76 hours
Case Research and Presentation 50 hours
Exam 50 hours
Expected literature

Ehrig, T. & Schmidt, J. (2022) Theory-based learning and experimentation: How strategists can systematically generate knowledge at the edge between the known and the unknown. Strategic Management Journal, https:/​/​doi.org/​10.1002/​smj.3381

Felin, T., & Zenger, T. R. (2009). Entrepreneurs as theorists: on the origins of collective beliefs and novel strategies. Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, 3(2), 127-146.


Felin, T., & Zenger, T. R. (2017). The theory-based view: Economic actors as theorists. Strategy Science, 2(4), 258-271. 


Zellweger, T. & Zenger, T. (2021) Entrepreneurs as scientists: A pragmatist approach to producing value out of uncertainty, Academy ofManagement https:/​/​doi.org/​10.5465/​amr.2020.0503


Last updated on 16-02-2023