Case Method

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Definition Case Method. Description


The Case Method (CM) is a method of learning and teaching based on active participation and analyzing and discussing a case. It is a form of instructor-guided, discussion-based learning around complex and often ambiguous real-world scenarios presented in a "case study" (see below) with a main character / protagonist facing a strategic decision.


The CM is also referred to as: Case Study Method or Case Discussion Method or Case Learning Method. Also the term Discussion Leadership is used, which emphasizes the role of the facilitator of the classroom interaction, see below.


What is a Case? What is a Case Study?


Broadly speaking, a case is a description of a complex situation faced by an individual or organization. But there is no universally accepted definition of a 'case'. A definition by pioneer Carl Christensen worth knowing is:

"... a partial, historical, clinical study of a situation which has confronted a practicing administrator or managerial group. Presented in a narrative form to encourage student involvement, it provides data - substantive and process - essential to an analysis of a specific situation, for the framing of alternative action programs and for their implementation, recognizing the complexity and the ambiguity of the practical world."

Thus, broadly speaking, a case is a description of a complex situation faced by an individual or organization.


A case study (CS) is the object of study in the case method. A CS is normally a story, a written summary of a problem situation that invites the student to recommend action based on analysis. A CS is teaching material, not a journalistic or historical record. The writer of a CS aims to create a learning experience for students by re-creating the problem setting as decision-makers saw it at the time. Although a CS is necessarily an abstraction of reality, a good one will throw students into the same setting as prevailed historically to let them wrestle with the same dilemmas, and perhaps even err - all with the purpose of helping the students learn to avoid a similar mistake in professional life.


Usage


Over the last decades, the method is increasingly used for professional education in a number of fields, including law, business, medicine, and social sciences.


Role of Students


The CM asks the student to put him or herself in the shoes of the main character, typically the CEO or a manager.

Similar to Action Learning, but contrary to the traditional lecturing method - which is based on the transfer of knowledge by a teacher professing a series of content declarations without much or any interaction with the students - the focus of the CM is on developing skills and growing wisdom through participation by the students, who are supposed to think and decide like a managers or decision maker facing a problem.


The aim is for the students to experience the complexities, ambiguities, and uncertainties confronted by the original party in the case.


Role of Discussion Leader


The professor / discussion leader prepares, facilitates and guides the session through dialogue (discussion) and through asking questions (Dialectics), asking questions and eliciting participation from the entire class to enrich the discussion with contrasting viewpoints, different industry experiences, and cultural backgrounds.


In short, he is structuring and facilitating the students’ work rather than delivering information, giving explanations, or providing answers. The emphasis is on the students’ reasoning and expressions, on their capacity to structure the problem and work out a solution.


To be effective, the case discussion leader should:

  • Be well-prepared.
  • Be flexible, accepting the fact that this is necessary in using case materials. Do not to force the discussion along predetermined lines.
  • Ask questions when necessary, but ask as few as possible to support the open nature of the decision and avoiding unproductive channels.
  • Don't become emotionally involved in the case discussion; don't advocate or oppose a particular idea.
  • Summarize at the end while leaving time to pull together the key points of the case.

History


The roots of teaching by asking questions to stimulate active learning go back to:

  • Socrates’ dialogues as described by Plato (see for example Plato’s Meno)
  • Jesus (focus on the student, employing questioning and parables)
  • Confucius’ conversations

The case-study method was first introduced into social science by Frederic Le Play in 1829 as a handmaiden to statistics in his studies of family budgets. (Les Ouvriers Europeens (2nd edition, 1879).


Structure of a Typical Case


Writing styles depend on the person preparing a case study and the preferences of the business school, yet most cases more or less employ the following structure:

  • Title and Introduction (½ - 2 pages)
  • Background on the Company, Industry and Competitors (3-7 pages)
  • The Decision Point in more Detail (1-5 pages)
  • Exhibits and Endnotes (4-10 pages)

The Case Method Process


The typical steps or phases in the CM are as follows:

  1. Individual Case Preparation: Students are presented with a case, placing them in the role of the decision maker at the time. Students read through the situation and identify the problem they are faced with. Students perform an analysis, examine the causes and considering alternative courses of actions to come to a set of recommendations.
  2. Team Analysis and Debate: Students meet in "learning teams" (5-10 persons) to discuss their findings and compare their analysis and contrast viewpoints. Group members need to carefully listen, understand, and appreciate these different views, and thus expand their range of thinking as well as depth of analysis. For this to happen effectively, the group atmosphere should be as free as possible, and focusing on important issues.
  3. In-class Discussion under the questioning and guidance of the discussion leader (professor), probing underlying issues, comparing various alternatives.
  4. Conclusions Drawn and Lessons Learned: Together the class develops an analysis, suggests courses of action considering the objectives of the organization, and formulates key learning points.
  5. After Class Discussion and Individual Reflection: Students reflect in their learning team and individually on how their initial ideas changed as a result of the input from their learning team and from the classroom discussion. 

Benefits of the Case Method. Advantages

  • Active participation of students
  • Natural engagement of human beings with stories (see Storytelling)
  • More effective than traditional lecturing
  • Fosters critical thinking
  • Opportunity to apply theoretical concepts to a real-life scenario
  • Exercises judgment, problem solving, decision making, and action-taking skills
  • Democratic, two-way information flow
  • Inductive learning from experience
  • Encourages student responsibility for learning
  • Enlivens the classroom dynamic, more fun
  • Develops collaboration skills, group learning, time management
  • The teacher learns too

Disadvantages of the Case Method. Cons

  • Time consuming (both for discussion leader and students). May lead to delays in finishing student's year.
  • The strong focus on 1 important and complex topic may leave many other topics underexposed.
  • High demands on discussion leader. Requires extensive preparation, planning and timing.
  • Both teachers and students may be unfamiliar initially with the CM and reluctant to change.
  • Context-dependent. It's hard to generalize from a single case. The external validity (outside the organization in question) is disputable.
  • Cognitive Biases / Tunnel vision / Pygmalion effect in case selection, data collection and interpretation (there is a tendency to rely too heavily on interpretation of the case instead of external research).
  • Quieter/introvert students may find this approach challenging because they have to communicate and work with other students in teams.
  • Conclusions are subjective.
  • Not appropriate for elementary education levels.

Sources

  • Robert F. Bruner, Socrates’ Muse: Reflections on Effective Case Discussion Leadership, 2002
  • Louis B. Barnes, C. Roland Christensen and Abbey J. Hansen, Teaching and the Case Method
  • C. Roland Christensen, David A. Garvin and Ann Sweet (eds.), Education for Judgment, The Artistry of Discussion Leadership
Case Method Forum
  Banking Cases / Games
Hello. First of all thank you very much for attention. I need your advices and will use them in practice. I need some banking cases or intellectual games for my training which I spend for students. What would you do? What may be be interesting for st...
     
 
  Case Method Teacher Competencies
In case method teaching, what competencies you think are most important? Why?...
     
 
  Using the Case Method with Diverse Student Levels?
How to make the Case Method (CM) work when student knowledge levels are very diverse, making team analysis and inference very difficult?...
     
 
  Observations About Case Studies
Case Study = Empirical Investigation + Contemporary Phenomenon + Real Context
- Empirical Investigation: Case study is a strategy in which an empirical investigation for particular contemporary phenomenon in its real context with us...
     
 
  Case Method to Compensate Lack of Industry Experience
We use case method of teaching of the engineers in inspection and quality. Fresh engineers just graduated from the colleges are recruited to position them as inspection engineers of mech electrical or electromechanical and electronics based items of ...
     
 
  Case Method Without Teams
I am a part-time professor in a small private university in Mexico City, teaching Business Courses to Junior and Senior students in the English language.
I have used cases in several textbooks (International Business, Hill mainly), for Midterm a...
     
 
  Quotes on Case Learning
Let's collect some quotes around the Case Method. Here are some to get started:
I keep six honest serving men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When;
And How and Where and Who.
Rudyard K...
     
 

Case Method Special Interest Group


Special Interest Group

 

Best Practices - Case Method Premium
  WHEN to Use the Case Method? Conditions and Circumstances
Over the last few decades, the use of the Case Method (CM) as a learning approach has been growing. We now added a comprehensive summary of the Case Method to 12manage, explaining what case s...
     
 

Expert Tips - Case Method Premium
 

Improve your CM Teaching Competences: How to Fight Mindless Learning

The whole idea behind the CM is to make the students learn more and deeper by involving them in the learning process ACTIVELY. So when you are confron...
Usage (application): Case Discussion Leader Development and Coaching
 
 
 

Improve your CM Teaching Competences: How to Learn from Colleagues

Since CM Discussion is such a complex task, probably the best and fastest way to learn it is to observe others doing it.

But when you do th...
Usage (application): Case Discussion Leader Development and Coaching
 
 
 

Checklist for Preparing a Case Class

Here's a checklist I found to effectively prepare a case class:
Learning Objectives
1. What a...
Usage (application): Case Method Discussion Leaders
 
 
 

Improve your CM Teaching Competences: How to Balance Leading and Facilitating

To be able to 'steer' the Case Discussion in effective directions while at the same time leaving as much as possible space and initiative to your stud...
Usage (application): Case Discussion Leader Development and Coaching
 
 
 

Improve your CM Teaching Competences: How to Use Humor and Drama

Using some humor and/or drama in a professional, thoughtful, tasteful way and in reasonable doses supports your discussion leadership in several ways:...
Usage (application): Case Discussion Leader Development and Coaching
 
 
 

Core Values of the Case Method

Robert F. Bruner (2002) recommends the following 5 general core values for case discussion leaders:
  1. Ask often, tell seldom
    • A...
      Usage (application): Teaching Case Method, Interactive Teaching
 
 
 

Improve your CM Teaching Competences: How to Handle and Benefit from Student Evaluations

Of course the evaluations of your students represent benchmarks and - more importantly - opportunities for continuous growth.
But how do you go t...
Usage (application): Case Discussion Leader Development and Coaching
 
 
 

Student Guidelines for Case Discussion

Introduction - Students Guidelines for Case Discussion

This course will introduce you to the...
Usage (application): Template to Use in Trainings
 
 
 

Case Method Preconditions / Ground Rules

Following 4 conditions must be met to successfully work with the case method:
1. RESPECT: Mutual respect between instructor and students, and amo...
Usage (application): Case Method Discussiion Leaders
 
 
 

Checklist for Assessing a Case Class

Structure
Opening
1. Are the students ready to begin on time? Does the class start on ...
Usage (application): Assessing a Case Class
 
 
 

Harvard Cases

Harvard Business Publishing offers top quality course materials from following renowned institutions:
- ABCC at Nanyang Tech University
- Ba...
Usage (application): Case Studies
 
 
 

The Times 100 Business Case Studies

The Times 100 Business Case Studies is a long-established and trusted brand, providing a unique, powerful and immediate resource for teachers and stud...
Usage (application): Case Studies
 
 
 

Sustainable Development Case Studies

The WBCSD (World Council for Sustainable Development Case Studies) offers tools to support the implementation of sustainable development into business...
Usage (application): Case Studies
 
 
 

Summary of Case Method

The case method has long been accepted as an important method for training managers and administrators. It is a method of learning based on active par...
Usage (application): Teaching Case Method
 
 
 

Evaluating Student Performance

The evaluation of a student's performance in a case-driven course can be based on some or all of the following factors:
- Written case analyses (...
Usage (application): Evaluating Student Performance
 
 
 

Benefits from the Case Method

The case benefit has several advantages over traditional teaching methods.
- Cases allow students to learn by doing. They allow students to step ...
Usage (application): Advantages of Case Method
 
 
 

The Case Study Handbook

If you're enrolled in an executive education or MBA program, you've probably encountered a powerful learning tool: the business case. But if you're li...
Usage (application): How to Read, Discuss, and Write Persuasively About Cases
 
 
 

Free Cases by Various Business Schools

As a useful resource for case teachers, and to encourage the growth in case use, ecch provides educators with access to a growing range of free cases ...
Usage (application): Free Case Studies
 
 
 

The ABC's of Case Teaching

A set of guidelines to "adapt not adopt" to your own personal teaching style and level of comfort.
By GUISD....
Usage (application): Teaching Case Method
 
 
 

Ivey Cases

Search thousands of cases, virtually all with full teaching notes, and search technical notes, articles, and more....
Usage (application): Case Studies
 
 
 

Case Method Teaching

Advice on preparing for class, what to expect from students and how to lead a case discussion from the UVA Teaching Resource Center.
By Universit...
Usage (application): Teaching Case Method
 
 
 

Teaching Innovation Resources

MIT Sloan Teaching Innovation Resources (MSTIR) is a collection of teaching materials, including case studies, industry notes, and management simulati...
Usage (application): Case Studies
 
 
 

Getting Started: Case Method in Practice

Is case method teaching an art or a craft? Although some instructors seem to be "born" case teachers, for most it is learned over time through careful...
Usage (application): Teaching Case Method
 
 
 

Writing, Teaching and Learning with Cases

A collection of articles on the case method by the case centre....
Usage (application): Writing Cases
 
 
 

Case Studies Ross School of Busines

Large collection of Case Studies....
Usage (application): Case Studies
 
 
 

Case Materials and Teaching Modules

Online library of CURATED reading materials, multimedia content, and teaching modules that focuses on social, environmental and ethical issues in busi...
Usage (application): Case Studies
 
 

Resources - Case Method Premium

Using the Case Method: Concept and Main Steps

1. Case method: Introduction
2. Case study in management education
3. What is a case?
4. Why cases?
5. More on ‘what is a case’? Usage (application): Case Method, Case Analysis, Management Case, Case Education, Case Learning
 

Introduction Into Case Study Research

This presentation provides an introduction into Case Study Research. The presentation includes the following sections:
1. Why Case Study Research...
Usage (application): Case Study Research, Case Research, Research Methods
 

Professor Evans Explains Why Fast Change Requires New Ways of Learning and Thinking

In this historic video Action Learning Professor Reg Evans shows that it is very important to understand that today's rate of change (C) is exponentia...
Usage (application): Action Learning, Coping with Change, The Need of Change, The Need for New Ways of Learning
 

Teaching Methods for Case Studies

Case method is a powerful student-centered teaching strategy that can impart students with critical thinking, communication, and interpersonal skills....
Usage (application): Teaching Case Method
 

Writing Cases

Teaching cases differ from research cases primarily in terms of application. While one is used as an instrument to facilitate teaching and add to prac...
Usage (application): Writing Research Cases versus Teaching Cases
 
 

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