Case Method

Knowledge Center

Summary, forum, best practices, expert tips and information sources.

78 items • 53.883 visits



What is the Case Method? Meaning.

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.


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.


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.


  • 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

Special Interest Group

Case Method Special Interest Group.

Special Interest Group (75 members)


Forum about the Case Method. Below you can ask a question about this topic, share your experiences, report a new development, or explain something.

Start a new topic about Case Method


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?...
🔥 NEW Problem-based Learning in Management
In the last couple of months, I have been immersed in tertiary education as my daughter begins the long journey of becoming a neuroscientist. She’s chosen the Netherlands and focused on two institutio...
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;
Competencies Required in Teaching using the Case Method
In case method teaching, what competencies you think are most important? Why?...
What is a Case Study? Components
What exactly is a case study? We might look at what are the elements of a good Case Study by applying the following "formula":

Case Study = Empirical Investigation + Contemporary Phenomenon...
Using the Case Method to Compensate for Lack of Experience
We use the case method for teaching fresh engineers in inspection and quality. These "fresh" engineers just graduated from the colleges are recruited to position them as inspection engineers of mechan...
Using the Case Method for Individual Students
I am a part-time professor in a small private university in Mexico City, teaching Business Courses to Junior and Senior students in English.
I have used cases in several textbooks (International ...

Best Practices

The best, top-rated topics about the Case Method. Here you will find the most valuable ideas and practical suggestions.

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 studies ar...

Expert Tips

Advanced insights about the Case Method. Here you will find professional advices by experts.

Improve your CM Teaching Competences: How to Learn from Colleagues

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

Improve your CM Teaching Competences: How to Fight Mindless Learning

Case Discussion Leader Development and Coaching
The whole idea behind the CM is to make the students learn more and deeper by involving them in the learning process ACT...

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

Case Discussion Leader Development and Coaching
Using some humor and/or drama in a professional, thoughtful, tasteful way and in reasonable doses supports your discussi...

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

Case Discussion Leader Development and Coaching
To be able to 'steer' the Case Discussion in effective directions while at the same time leaving as much as possible spa...

Checklist for Preparing a Case Class

Case Method Discussion Leaders
Here's a checklist I found to effectively prepare a case class: Learning Objectives 1. What are the two or three princ...

Core Values of the Case Method

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

Student Guidelines for Case Discussion

Template to Use in Trainings
Introduction - Students Guidelines for Case Discussion This course will introduce you to the case-study approach to l...

Case Method Preconditions / Ground Rules

Case Method Discussiion Leaders
Following 4 conditions must be met to successfully work with the case method: 1. RESPECT: Mutual respect between instru...

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

Case Discussion Leader Development and Coaching
Of course the evaluations of your students represent benchmarks and - more importantly - opportunities for continuous gr...

Checklist for Assessing a Case Class

Assessing a Case Class
Structure Opening 1. Are the students ready to begin on time? Does the class start on schedule? 2. Does the instructo...

Harvard Cases

Case Studies
Harvard Business Publishing offers top quality course materials from following renowned institutions: - ABCC at Nanyang...

Case Method Teaching

Teaching Case Method
Advice on preparing for class, what to expect from students and how to lead a case discussion from the UVA Teaching Reso...

Writing, Teaching and Learning with Cases

Writing Cases
A collection of articles on the case method by the case centre....

Case Studies Ross School of Busines

Case Studies
Large collection of Case Studies....

The ABC's of Case Teaching

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

Getting Started: Case Method in Practice

Teaching Case Method
Is case method teaching an art or a craft? Although some instructors seem to be "born" case teachers, for most it is lea...

Free Cases by Various Business Schools

Free Case Studies
As a useful resource for case teachers, and to encourage the growth in case use, ecch provides educators with access to ...

The Case Study Handbook

How to Read, Discuss, and Write Persuasively About Cases
If you're enrolled in an executive education or MBA program, you've probably encountered a powerful learning tool: the b...

Teaching Innovation Resources

Case Studies
MIT Sloan Teaching Innovation Resources (MSTIR) is a collection of teaching materials, including case studies, industry ...

Ivey Cases

Case Studies
Search thousands of cases, virtually all with full teaching notes, and search technical notes, articles, and more....

The Times 100 Business Case Studies

Case Studies
The Times 100 Business Case Studies is a long-established and trusted brand, providing a unique, powerful and immediate ...

Sustainable Development Case Studies

Case Studies
The WBCSD (World Council for Sustainable Development Case Studies) offers tools to support the implementation of sustain...

Summary of Case Method

Teaching Case Method
The case method has long been accepted as an important method for training managers and administrators. It is a method o...

Evaluating Student Performance

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: ...

Benefits from the Case Method

Advantages of Case Method
The case benefit has several advantages over traditional teaching methods. - Cases allow students to learn by doing. Th...

Case Materials and Teaching Modules

Case Studies
Online library of CURATED reading materials, multimedia content, and teaching modules that focuses on social, environmen...
Information Sources

Various sources of information regarding the Case Method. Here you will find powerpoints, videos, news, etc. to use in your own lectures and workshops.

Using the Case Method: Concept and Main Steps

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

Introduction Into Case Study Research

Case Study Research, Case Research, Research Methods
This presentation provides an introduction into Case Study Research. The presentation includes the following sections: ...

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

Action Learning, Coping with Change, The Need of Change, The Need for New Ways of Learning
In this historic video Action Learning Professor Reg Evans shows that it is very important to understand that today's ra...

Teaching Methods for Case Studies

Teaching Case Method
Case method is a powerful student-centered teaching strategy that can impart students with critical thinking, communicat...

Writing Cases

Writing Research Cases versus Teaching Cases
Teaching cases differ from research cases primarily in terms of application. While one is used as an instrument to facil...

Research Links

Jump to further research sources regarding the Case Method.













Compare with: Action Learning  |  Dialectical Inquiry  |  Organizational Learning  |  Analogical Strategic Reasoning

Special Interest Group

Do you know a lot about the Case Method? Become our SIG Leader

Return to Management Hub: Communication & Skills  |  Knowledge & Intangibles

More on Management  |  Return to Management Dictionary

This ends our Case Method summary and forum.

About 12manage | Advertising | Link to us / Cite us | Privacy | Suggestions | Terms of Service
© 2023 12manage - The Executive Fast Track. V16.1 - Last updated: 9-2-2023. All names ™ of their owners.