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What the Case Study Method Really Teaches

  • Nitin Nohria

how can a case study analysis be beneficial in education

Seven meta-skills that stick even if the cases fade from memory.

It’s been 100 years since Harvard Business School began using the case study method. Beyond teaching specific subject matter, the case study method excels in instilling meta-skills in students. This article explains the importance of seven such skills: preparation, discernment, bias recognition, judgement, collaboration, curiosity, and self-confidence.

During my decade as dean of Harvard Business School, I spent hundreds of hours talking with our alumni. To enliven these conversations, I relied on a favorite question: “What was the most important thing you learned from your time in our MBA program?”

  • Nitin Nohria is the George F. Baker Jr. Professor at Harvard Business School and the former dean of HBS.

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Making Learning Relevant With Case Studies

The open-ended problems presented in case studies give students work that feels connected to their lives.

Students working on projects in a classroom

To prepare students for jobs that haven’t been created yet, we need to teach them how to be great problem solvers so that they’ll be ready for anything. One way to do this is by teaching content and skills using real-world case studies, a learning model that’s focused on reflection during the problem-solving process. It’s similar to project-based learning, but PBL is more focused on students creating a product.

Case studies have been used for years by businesses, law and medical schools, physicians on rounds, and artists critiquing work. Like other forms of problem-based learning, case studies can be accessible for every age group, both in one subject and in interdisciplinary work.

You can get started with case studies by tackling relatable questions like these with your students:

  • How can we limit food waste in the cafeteria?
  • How can we get our school to recycle and compost waste? (Or, if you want to be more complex, how can our school reduce its carbon footprint?)
  • How can we improve school attendance?
  • How can we reduce the number of people who get sick at school during cold and flu season?

Addressing questions like these leads students to identify topics they need to learn more about. In researching the first question, for example, students may see that they need to research food chains and nutrition. Students often ask, reasonably, why they need to learn something, or when they’ll use their knowledge in the future. Learning is most successful for students when the content and skills they’re studying are relevant, and case studies offer one way to create that sense of relevance.

Teaching With Case Studies

Ultimately, a case study is simply an interesting problem with many correct answers. What does case study work look like in classrooms? Teachers generally start by having students read the case or watch a video that summarizes the case. Students then work in small groups or individually to solve the case study. Teachers set milestones defining what students should accomplish to help them manage their time.

During the case study learning process, student assessment of learning should be focused on reflection. Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick’s Learning and Leading With Habits of Mind gives several examples of what this reflection can look like in a classroom: 

Journaling: At the end of each work period, have students write an entry summarizing what they worked on, what worked well, what didn’t, and why. Sentence starters and clear rubrics or guidelines will help students be successful. At the end of a case study project, as Costa and Kallick write, it’s helpful to have students “select significant learnings, envision how they could apply these learnings to future situations, and commit to an action plan to consciously modify their behaviors.”

Interviews: While working on a case study, students can interview each other about their progress and learning. Teachers can interview students individually or in small groups to assess their learning process and their progress.

Student discussion: Discussions can be unstructured—students can talk about what they worked on that day in a think-pair-share or as a full class—or structured, using Socratic seminars or fishbowl discussions. If your class is tackling a case study in small groups, create a second set of small groups with a representative from each of the case study groups so that the groups can share their learning.

4 Tips for Setting Up a Case Study

1. Identify a problem to investigate: This should be something accessible and relevant to students’ lives. The problem should also be challenging and complex enough to yield multiple solutions with many layers.

2. Give context: Think of this step as a movie preview or book summary. Hook the learners to help them understand just enough about the problem to want to learn more.

3. Have a clear rubric: Giving structure to your definition of quality group work and products will lead to stronger end products. You may be able to have your learners help build these definitions.

4. Provide structures for presenting solutions: The amount of scaffolding you build in depends on your students’ skill level and development. A case study product can be something like several pieces of evidence of students collaborating to solve the case study, and ultimately presenting their solution with a detailed slide deck or an essay—you can scaffold this by providing specified headings for the sections of the essay.

Problem-Based Teaching Resources

There are many high-quality, peer-reviewed resources that are open source and easily accessible online.

  • The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science at the University at Buffalo built an online collection of more than 800 cases that cover topics ranging from biochemistry to economics. There are resources for middle and high school students.
  • Models of Excellence , a project maintained by EL Education and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has examples of great problem- and project-based tasks—and corresponding exemplary student work—for grades pre-K to 12.
  • The Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning at Purdue University is an open-source journal that publishes examples of problem-based learning in K–12 and post-secondary classrooms.
  • The Tech Edvocate has a list of websites and tools related to problem-based learning.

In their book Problems as Possibilities , Linda Torp and Sara Sage write that at the elementary school level, students particularly appreciate how they feel that they are taken seriously when solving case studies. At the middle school level, “researchers stress the importance of relating middle school curriculum to issues of student concern and interest.” And high schoolers, they write, find the case study method “beneficial in preparing them for their future.”

Using Case Studies to Teach

how can a case study analysis be beneficial in education

Why Use Cases?

Many students are more inductive than deductive reasoners, which means that they learn better from examples than from logical development starting with basic principles. The use of case studies can therefore be a very effective classroom technique.

Case studies are have long been used in business schools, law schools, medical schools and the social sciences, but they can be used in any discipline when instructors want students to explore how what they have learned applies to real world situations. Cases come in many formats, from a simple “What would you do in this situation?” question to a detailed description of a situation with accompanying data to analyze. Whether to use a simple scenario-type case or a complex detailed one depends on your course objectives.

Most case assignments require students to answer an open-ended question or develop a solution to an open-ended problem with multiple potential solutions. Requirements can range from a one-paragraph answer to a fully developed group action plan, proposal or decision.

Common Case Elements

Most “full-blown” cases have these common elements:

  • A decision-maker who is grappling with some question or problem that needs to be solved.
  • A description of the problem’s context (a law, an industry, a family).
  • Supporting data, which can range from data tables to links to URLs, quoted statements or testimony, supporting documents, images, video, or audio.

Case assignments can be done individually or in teams so that the students can brainstorm solutions and share the work load.

The following discussion of this topic incorporates material presented by Robb Dixon of the School of Management and Rob Schadt of the School of Public Health at CEIT workshops. Professor Dixon also provided some written comments that the discussion incorporates.

Advantages to the use of case studies in class

A major advantage of teaching with case studies is that the students are actively engaged in figuring out the principles by abstracting from the examples. This develops their skills in:

  • Problem solving
  • Analytical tools, quantitative and/or qualitative, depending on the case
  • Decision making in complex situations
  • Coping with ambiguities

Guidelines for using case studies in class

In the most straightforward application, the presentation of the case study establishes a framework for analysis. It is helpful if the statement of the case provides enough information for the students to figure out solutions and then to identify how to apply those solutions in other similar situations. Instructors may choose to use several cases so that students can identify both the similarities and differences among the cases.

Depending on the course objectives, the instructor may encourage students to follow a systematic approach to their analysis.  For example:

  • What is the issue?
  • What is the goal of the analysis?
  • What is the context of the problem?
  • What key facts should be considered?
  • What alternatives are available to the decision-maker?
  • What would you recommend — and why?

An innovative approach to case analysis might be to have students  role-play the part of the people involved in the case. This not only actively engages students, but forces them to really understand the perspectives of the case characters. Videos or even field trips showing the venue in which the case is situated can help students to visualize the situation that they need to analyze.

Accompanying Readings

Case studies can be especially effective if they are paired with a reading assignment that introduces or explains a concept or analytical method that applies to the case. The amount of emphasis placed on the use of the reading during the case discussion depends on the complexity of the concept or method. If it is straightforward, the focus of the discussion can be placed on the use of the analytical results. If the method is more complex, the instructor may need to walk students through its application and the interpretation of the results.

Leading the Case Discussion and Evaluating Performance

Decision cases are more interesting than descriptive ones. In order to start the discussion in class, the instructor can start with an easy, noncontroversial question that all the students should be able to answer readily. However, some of the best case discussions start by forcing the students to take a stand. Some instructors will ask a student to do a formal “open” of the case, outlining his or her entire analysis.  Others may choose to guide discussion with questions that move students from problem identification to solutions.  A skilled instructor steers questions and discussion to keep the class on track and moving at a reasonable pace.

In order to motivate the students to complete the assignment before class as well as to stimulate attentiveness during the class, the instructor should grade the participation—quantity and especially quality—during the discussion of the case. This might be a simple check, check-plus, check-minus or zero. The instructor should involve as many students as possible. In order to engage all the students, the instructor can divide them into groups, give each group several minutes to discuss how to answer a question related to the case, and then ask a randomly selected person in each group to present the group’s answer and reasoning. Random selection can be accomplished through rolling of dice, shuffled index cards, each with one student’s name, a spinning wheel, etc.

Tips on the Penn State U. website: http://tlt.its.psu.edu/suggestions/cases/

If you are interested in using this technique in a science course, there is a good website on use of case studies in the sciences at the University of Buffalo.

Dunne, D. and Brooks, K. (2004) Teaching with Cases (Halifax, NS: Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education), ISBN 0-7703-8924-4 (Can be ordered at http://www.bookstore.uwo.ca/ at a cost of $15.00)

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In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Case Study in Education Research

Introduction, general overview and foundational texts of the late 20th century.

  • Conceptualisations and Definitions of Case Study
  • Case Study and Theoretical Grounding
  • Choosing Cases
  • Methodology, Method, Genre, or Approach
  • Case Study: Quality and Generalizability
  • Multiple Case Studies
  • Exemplary Case Studies and Example Case Studies
  • Criticism, Defense, and Debate around Case Study

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Case Study in Education Research by Lorna Hamilton LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2018 LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018 DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0201

It is important to distinguish between case study as a teaching methodology and case study as an approach, genre, or method in educational research. The use of case study as teaching method highlights the ways in which the essential qualities of the case—richness of real-world data and lived experiences—can help learners gain insights into a different world and can bring learning to life. The use of case study in this way has been around for about a hundred years or more. Case study use in educational research, meanwhile, emerged particularly strongly in the 1970s and 1980s in the United Kingdom and the United States as a means of harnessing the richness and depth of understanding of individuals, groups, and institutions; their beliefs and perceptions; their interactions; and their challenges and issues. Writers, such as Lawrence Stenhouse, advocated the use of case study as a form that teacher-researchers could use as they focused on the richness and intensity of their own practices. In addition, academic writers and postgraduate students embraced case study as a means of providing structure and depth to educational projects. However, as educational research has developed, so has debate on the quality and usefulness of case study as well as the problems surrounding the lack of generalizability when dealing with single or even multiple cases. The question of how to define and support case study work has formed the basis for innumerable books and discursive articles, starting with Robert Yin’s original book on case study ( Yin 1984 , cited under General Overview and Foundational Texts of the Late 20th Century ) to the myriad authors who attempt to bring something new to the realm of case study in educational research in the 21st century.

This section briefly considers the ways in which case study research has developed over the last forty to fifty years in educational research usage and reflects on whether the field has finally come of age, respected by creators and consumers of research. Case study has its roots in anthropological studies in which a strong ethnographic approach to the study of peoples and culture encouraged researchers to identify and investigate key individuals and groups by trying to understand the lived world of such people from their points of view. Although ethnography has emphasized the role of researcher as immersive and engaged with the lived world of participants via participant observation, evolving approaches to case study in education has been about the richness and depth of understanding that can be gained through involvement in the case by drawing on diverse perspectives and diverse forms of data collection. Embracing case study as a means of entering these lived worlds in educational research projects, was encouraged in the 1970s and 1980s by researchers, such as Lawrence Stenhouse, who provided a helpful impetus for case study work in education ( Stenhouse 1980 ). Stenhouse wrestled with the use of case study as ethnography because ethnographers traditionally had been unfamiliar with the peoples they were investigating, whereas educational researchers often worked in situations that were inherently familiar. Stenhouse also emphasized the need for evidence of rigorous processes and decisions in order to encourage robust practice and accountability to the wider field by allowing others to judge the quality of work through transparency of processes. Yin 1984 , the first book focused wholly on case study in research, gave a brief and basic outline of case study and associated practices. Various authors followed this approach, striving to engage more deeply in the significance of case study in the social sciences. Key among these are Merriam 1988 and Stake 1995 , along with Yin 1984 , who established powerful groundings for case study work. Additionally, evidence of the increasing popularity of case study can be found in a broad range of generic research methods texts, but these often do not have much scope for the extensive discussion of case study found in case study–specific books. Yin’s books and numerous editions provide a developing or evolving notion of case study with more detailed accounts of the possible purposes of case study, followed by Merriam 1988 and Stake 1995 who wrestled with alternative ways of looking at purposes and the positioning of case study within potential disciplinary modes. The authors referenced in this section are often characterized as the foundational authors on this subject and may have published various editions of their work, cited elsewhere in this article, based on their shifting ideas or emphases.

Merriam, S. B. 1988. Case study research in education: A qualitative approach . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

This is Merriam’s initial text on case study and is eminently accessible. The author establishes and reinforces various key features of case study; demonstrates support for positioning the case within a subject domain, e.g., psychology, sociology, etc.; and further shapes the case according to its purpose or intent.

Stake, R. E. 1995. The art of case study research . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Stake is a very readable author, accessible and yet engaging with complex topics. The author establishes his key forms of case study: intrinsic, instrumental, and collective. Stake brings the reader through the process of conceptualizing the case, carrying it out, and analyzing the data. The author uses authentic examples to help readers understand and appreciate the nuances of an interpretive approach to case study.

Stenhouse, L. 1980. The study of samples and the study of cases. British Educational Research Journal 6:1–6.

DOI: 10.1080/0141192800060101

A key article in which Stenhouse sets out his stand on case study work. Those interested in the evolution of case study use in educational research should consider this article and the insights given.

Yin, R. K. 1984. Case Study Research: Design and Methods . Beverley Hills, CA: SAGE.

This preliminary text from Yin was very basic. However, it may be of interest in comparison with later books because Yin shows the ways in which case study as an approach or method in research has evolved in relation to detailed discussions of purpose, as well as the practicalities of working through the research process.

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Research Guides

Case Studies

Dee Degner; Amani Gashan; and Natalia Ramirez Casalvolone

Description

Creswell and Poth (2018) define case study as a strategy that involves the study of an issue explored through one or more cases within a bounded system (i.e., a setting or a context), a methodology, a type of design in qualitative research, or an object of study, as well as a product of the inquiry.

Flyvbjerg (2011) defines case study as an intensive analysis of an individual unit (as a person or community) stressing developmental factors in relation to the environment. Case study methodology aims to describe one or more cases in depth. It examines how something may be occurring in a given case or cases and typically uses multiple data sources to gather information. Creswell and Poth also argue that the use of different sources of information is to provide depth to the case description. Case study methodology aims to describe one or more cases in depth. It examines how something may be occurring in a given case or cases and typically uses multiple data sources to gather the information. This is the first step of data analysis in a qualitative case study. Following this, researchers must decide whether there is a case study to analyze, determine the boundaries of their case study and its context, decide whether they wish to use single or multiple case studies, and explore approaches to analyzing themes and articulating findings. Creswell and Poth (2018) are an ideal resource for defining case study, learning about its parts, and executing case study methodology.

Creswell, J. W., & Poth, C. N. (2018). Qualitative inquiry & research: choosing among five approaches (4th ed.) . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Flyvbjerg, B. (2011). Case study. In N. K. Denzin, & Y.S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (pp. 301-316 ). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Key Research Books and Articles on Case Study Methodology

Ashley, L. D. (2017). Case study research. In R. Coe, M. Waring, L. Hedges & J. Arthur (Eds), Research methods & methodologies in education (2nd ed., pp. 114-121). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

This edited text discusses several research methods in education. Dr. Laura Day Ashley, a professor at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, contributes a chapter on case study research. Using research on how private and public schools impact education in developing countries, she describes case studies and gives an example.

Baxter, P., & Jack, S. (2008). Qualitative case study methodology: Study design and implementation for novice researchers. Qualitative Report, 13 (4), 544-559.  http://nsuworks.nova.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1573&context=tqr

The authors of this study presented an account of the qualitative case study methodology that can provide beneficial tools for researchers to explore any phenomenon under study within its context. The aim of this study was to guide novice researchers in understanding the required information for the design and implementation of any qualitative case study research project. This paper offers an account of the types of case study designs along with practical recommendations to determine the case under study, write the research questions, develop propositions, and bind the case. It also includes a discussion of data resources and the triangulation procedure in case study research.

Creswell, J. W. & Poth, C. N. (2018). Qualitative inquiry & research: choosing among five approaches (4th ed.) . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

The authors are both recognized academics in the field of qualitative research; Dr. Creswell has authored many articles and 26 books on topics such as mixed-methods research, qualitative research, and research design, and Dr. Poth has written more than 30 peer reviewed journal articles and was a guest co-editor at the International Journal of Qualitative Methods. The book thoroughly reviews and compares five qualitative and inquiry designs, including research, phenomenological research, grounded theory research, ethnographic research, and case study research. Chapter 4, which is titled Five Qualitative Approaches, gives a thorough description and explanation of what a case study research contemplates. It discusses its definition and origins, its features, the types of case study procedures to follow when doing a case study, and the challenges faced during case study development. In the appendix, on page 119, the authors offer an example of a case study and a question that can be used for discussion. The entire book has pertinent information for both novice and experienced researchers in qualitative research. It covers all parts of the research process, from posing a framework to data collection, data analysis, and writing up.

Yin, R. K. (2016). Qualitative research from start to finish . New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Yin is the CEO of an applied research firm. He has authored numerous articles in many fields, including education. He also authored Case Study Research, which is now in its Sixth Edition. This book uses three approaches (practical, inductive, and adaptive) to highlight many important aspects of Qualitative Research. He provides a definition of case study and references how case study differs from other types of research.

Recent Dissertations Using Case Study Methodology

Clapp, F. N. (2017). Teachers’ and researchers’ beliefs of learning and the use of learning progressions (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (Order Number 10261732)

This study from Colorado State University was designed to identify the beliefs and discourse that both the Learning Progressions (LP) developers and the intended LP implementers held around student learning, teaching, and learning progressions. The study’s research questions were examined through the use of an instrumental case study. The researchers were deliberate in applying theory and study phenomena in their context, as it investigated teachers’ practices in the context of their respective classrooms.

Applying theory to the study phenomena, this study provided insight into the relationship between LP models and teachers’ perceptions about how students learn content in a particular context. The data was collected using interviews with teachers who participated in a year-long teacher-in-residence program. Researchers and content experts who conceptualized the LP were also interviewed to study the impact that it had on participants’ perceptions of the LP and any teacher reported changes in their respective classrooms. The findings of this study inform literature on both science teacher professional development and LP’s theory to practice.

Ruiz, A. M. (2011). Teachers and English language learners experiencing the secondary mainstream classroom: A case study (Doctoral Dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (Order Number 3471646)

This study from Georgia State University answered the following questions: 1) How does a secondary mainstream teacher experience the phenomenon of the inclusion of ELLs in a mainstream content area classroom? 2) How do ELLs experience the phenomenon of inclusion within the secondary mainstream content area classrooms? 3) How do the points of interaction between the secondary mainstream teacher, the English language learners, the content and the context shape the experiences of the inclusive classroom?

To comprehend the socio-constructivist learning theory which guided the design of this study, one must begin with understanding the epistemological stance of constructionism. Constructionism is seated within an interpretivist paradigm which asserts that reality does exist outside the realm of human interpretation; rather, it is human interpretation which makes meaning of this reality. The researcher applied Denzin and Lincoln’s (2004) bricoleur approach to this study, as it offered them the opportunity “to piece together a set of representations that is fitted to the specifics of this complex situation in an overlapping series of events” (p. 4). The researcher stated that his worldview shaped his research questions which called for a single case study research design.

Smith, P. H. (2000). Community as resource for minority language learning: A case study of Spanish-English dual-language schooling (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (Order Number 304578045)

The author studied a school where a dual language (Spanish- English) program was being developed. He focused on the role of the community and the students’ acquisition of Spanish. Through a case study design, his theoretical framework was contemplated under the fields of language planning, language revitalization, and funds of knowledge. The author believed that minority language (Spanish) acquisition could be supported by incorporating local language resources, and in this way undermine the strong influence of the English language. To analyze his data, he went through a triangulation process of participant observation in classrooms, literacy instruction, teacher, parent and community interviews, and document and archival analysis. Findings showed that minority language resources are less often incorporated in the curriculum than those of the language majority. Thus the study suggested that these types of programs should include the funds of knowledge and available resources of the language minority communities.

Internet Resources

Graham R Gibbs. (2012, October 24). Types of Case Study. Parts 1-3 on Case Studies .

This series of videos by Graham R. Gibbs at the University of Huddersfield effectively explains case studies. Some of Gibbs’ books on qualitative research include Qualitative Data Analysis: Explorations with NVivo (2002) and Analyzing Qualitative Data (2018).

Graham R Gibbs. (2012, October 24). Types of Case Study. Part 1 on Case Studies . Retrieved from https://youtu.be/gQfoq7c4UE4

The first part of this series is an attempt to define case studies. Dr. Gibbs argued that it is a contemporary study of one person, one event, or one company. This contemporary phenomenon cab be studied in its social life context by using multiple sources of evidence.

When completing a case study, we either examine what affects our case and what effect it has on others, or we study the relationship between “the case” and between the other factors. In a typical case study approach,  you choose one site to do your work and then you collect information by talking to people, using observations, interviews, or focus groups at that location. Case study is typically descriptive, meaning “you write what you see”, but it could also be exploratory or explanatory.

Types of Case Study:

  • Individual case study: One single person
  • Set of individual case studies: Looking at three single practices
  • Community studies: Many people in one community
  • Social group studies: The case representing social phenomenon “how something is defined in a social position”
  • Studies of organizations and institutions: The study of “election, ford, or fielding”
  • Studies of events, roles, and relationships: Family relationships

Graham R Gibbs. (2012, October 24). Planning a case study. Part 2 on Case Studies . Retrieved from https://youtu.be/o1JEtXkFAr4

The second part of this series explains how to plan a case study. Dr. Gibbs argues that when planning to conduct a case study, we should think about the conceptual framework, research questions, research design, sampling/replication strategy, methods and instruments, and analysis of data.

For any type of research, a good source of inspiration could be either from personal experiences or from talking with people about a certain topic that we can adopt.

The Conceptual Framework: Displays the important features of a case study; shows the relationships between the features; makes assumptions explicit; is selective, iterative, and based on theory; takes account of previous research; includes personal orientations, and includes overlap and inconsistency.

Research questions should:

  • Be consistent with your conceptual framework.
  • Cover conceptual framework.
  • Be structured and focused.
  • Be answerable.
  • Form a basis for data collection.

Graham R Gibbs. (2012, October 24). Replication or Single Cases. Part 3 of 3 on Case Studies . https://youtu.be/b5CYZRyOlys

In the final part of the three videos of case study, Dr. Gibbs examines case study designs and variations that are possible. He also discusses replication strategies which help give the studies reliability and test to see if they can be generalized. Dr. Gibbs highlights the methods and instruments used, how to analyze the data, and concludes with problems of validity you may encounter and common pitfalls of case study research. In summary, case studies can involve gathering a lot of data and you can start analyzing the data while collecting and going through it.

shirlanne84. (2014). Different types of case study </. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/tWsnvYs9Brs

In this short video (1.49 min.), three kinds of case studies (exploratory, descriptive, and explanatory) are described, as well as rationales for using them. These rationales are as follows:

  • Exploratory: If you know nothing about the case.
  • Descriptive: When you write what you see, you are describing the situation.
  • Explanatory: When you try to understand why things are happening, then you explain them.

Shuttleworth, M. (2008, Apr. 1). Case study research design [website]. Retrieved Feb 20, 2018 from https://explorable.com/case-study-research-design

This is a useful website that provides a guide to almost all of the research methods. It offers a clear explanation about what a case study is, the argument for and against the case study research design, how to design and conduct a case study, and how to analyze the results. This source provides a journey from the introduction of case study until the analysis of your data.

Case Studies Copyright © 2019 by Dee Degner; Amani Gashan; and Natalia Ramirez Casalvolone is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Do Your Students Know How to Analyze a Case—Really?

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  • Case Teaching
  • Student Engagement

J ust as actors, athletes, and musicians spend thousands of hours practicing their craft, business students benefit from practicing their critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Students, however, often have limited exposure to real-world problem-solving scenarios; they need more opportunities to practice tackling tough business problems and deciding on—and executing—the best solutions.

To ensure students have ample opportunity to develop these critical-thinking and decision-making skills, we believe business faculty should shift from teaching mostly principles and ideas to mostly applications and practices. And in doing so, they should emphasize the case method, which simulates real-world management challenges and opportunities for students.

To help educators facilitate this shift and help students get the most out of case-based learning, we have developed a framework for analyzing cases. We call it PACADI (Problem, Alternatives, Criteria, Analysis, Decision, Implementation); it can improve learning outcomes by helping students better solve and analyze business problems, make decisions, and develop and implement strategy. Here, we’ll explain why we developed this framework, how it works, and what makes it an effective learning tool.

The Case for Cases: Helping Students Think Critically

Business students must develop critical-thinking and analytical skills, which are essential to their ability to make good decisions in functional areas such as marketing, finance, operations, and information technology, as well as to understand the relationships among these functions. For example, the decisions a marketing manager must make include strategic planning (segments, products, and channels); execution (digital messaging, media, branding, budgets, and pricing); and operations (integrated communications and technologies), as well as how to implement decisions across functional areas.

Faculty can use many types of cases to help students develop these skills. These include the prototypical “paper cases”; live cases , which feature guest lecturers such as entrepreneurs or corporate leaders and on-site visits; and multimedia cases , which immerse students into real situations. Most cases feature an explicit or implicit decision that a protagonist—whether it is an individual, a group, or an organization—must make.

For students new to learning by the case method—and even for those with case experience—some common issues can emerge; these issues can sometimes be a barrier for educators looking to ensure the best possible outcomes in their case classrooms. Unsure of how to dig into case analysis on their own, students may turn to the internet or rely on former students for “answers” to assigned cases. Or, when assigned to provide answers to assignment questions in teams, students might take a divide-and-conquer approach but not take the time to regroup and provide answers that are consistent with one other.

To help address these issues, which we commonly experienced in our classes, we wanted to provide our students with a more structured approach for how they analyze cases—and to really think about making decisions from the protagonists’ point of view. We developed the PACADI framework to address this need.

PACADI: A Six-Step Decision-Making Approach

The PACADI framework is a six-step decision-making approach that can be used in lieu of traditional end-of-case questions. It offers a structured, integrated, and iterative process that requires students to analyze case information, apply business concepts to derive valuable insights, and develop recommendations based on these insights.

Prior to beginning a PACADI assessment, which we’ll outline here, students should first prepare a two-paragraph summary—a situation analysis—that highlights the key case facts. Then, we task students with providing a five-page PACADI case analysis (excluding appendices) based on the following six steps.

Step 1: Problem definition. What is the major challenge, problem, opportunity, or decision that has to be made? If there is more than one problem, choose the most important one. Often when solving the key problem, other issues will surface and be addressed. The problem statement may be framed as a question; for example, How can brand X improve market share among millennials in Canada? Usually the problem statement has to be re-written several times during the analysis of a case as students peel back the layers of symptoms or causation.

Step 2: Alternatives. Identify in detail the strategic alternatives to address the problem; three to five options generally work best. Alternatives should be mutually exclusive, realistic, creative, and feasible given the constraints of the situation. Doing nothing or delaying the decision to a later date are not considered acceptable alternatives.

Step 3: Criteria. What are the key decision criteria that will guide decision-making? In a marketing course, for example, these may include relevant marketing criteria such as segmentation, positioning, advertising and sales, distribution, and pricing. Financial criteria useful in evaluating the alternatives should be included—for example, income statement variables, customer lifetime value, payback, etc. Students must discuss their rationale for selecting the decision criteria and the weights and importance for each factor.

Step 4: Analysis. Provide an in-depth analysis of each alternative based on the criteria chosen in step three. Decision tables using criteria as columns and alternatives as rows can be helpful. The pros and cons of the various choices as well as the short- and long-term implications of each may be evaluated. Best, worst, and most likely scenarios can also be insightful.

Step 5: Decision. Students propose their solution to the problem. This decision is justified based on an in-depth analysis. Explain why the recommendation made is the best fit for the criteria.

Step 6: Implementation plan. Sound business decisions may fail due to poor execution. To enhance the likeliness of a successful project outcome, students describe the key steps (activities) to implement the recommendation, timetable, projected costs, expected competitive reaction, success metrics, and risks in the plan.

“Students note that using the PACADI framework yields ‘aha moments’—they learned something surprising in the case that led them to think differently about the problem and their proposed solution.”

PACADI’s Benefits: Meaningfully and Thoughtfully Applying Business Concepts

The PACADI framework covers all of the major elements of business decision-making, including implementation, which is often overlooked. By stepping through the whole framework, students apply relevant business concepts and solve management problems via a systematic, comprehensive approach; they’re far less likely to surface piecemeal responses.

As students explore each part of the framework, they may realize that they need to make changes to a previous step. For instance, when working on implementation, students may realize that the alternative they selected cannot be executed or will not be profitable, and thus need to rethink their decision. Or, they may discover that the criteria need to be revised since the list of decision factors they identified is incomplete (for example, the factors may explain key marketing concerns but fail to address relevant financial considerations) or is unrealistic (for example, they suggest a 25 percent increase in revenues without proposing an increased promotional budget).

In addition, the PACADI framework can be used alongside quantitative assignments, in-class exercises, and business and management simulations. The structured, multi-step decision framework encourages careful and sequential analysis to solve business problems. Incorporating PACADI as an overarching decision-making method across different projects will ultimately help students achieve desired learning outcomes. As a practical “beyond-the-classroom” tool, the PACADI framework is not a contrived course assignment; it reflects the decision-making approach that managers, executives, and entrepreneurs exercise daily. Case analysis introduces students to the real-world process of making business decisions quickly and correctly, often with limited information. This framework supplies an organized and disciplined process that students can readily defend in writing and in class discussions.

PACADI in Action: An Example

Here’s an example of how students used the PACADI framework for a recent case analysis on CVS, a large North American drugstore chain.

The CVS Prescription for Customer Value*

PACADI Stage

Summary Response

How should CVS Health evolve from the “drugstore of your neighborhood” to the “drugstore of your future”?

Alternatives

A1. Kaizen (continuous improvement)

A2. Product development

A3. Market development

A4. Personalization (micro-targeting)

Criteria (include weights)

C1. Customer value: service, quality, image, and price (40%)

C2. Customer obsession (20%)

C3. Growth through related businesses (20%)

C4. Customer retention and customer lifetime value (20%)

Each alternative was analyzed by each criterion using a Customer Value Assessment Tool

Alternative 4 (A4): Personalization was selected. This is operationalized via: segmentation—move toward segment-of-1 marketing; geodemographics and lifestyle emphasis; predictive data analysis; relationship marketing; people, principles, and supply chain management; and exceptional customer service.

Implementation

Partner with leading medical school

Curbside pick-up

Pet pharmacy

E-newsletter for customers and employees

Employee incentive program

CVS beauty days

Expand to Latin America and Caribbean

Healthier/happier corner

Holiday toy drives/community outreach

*Source: A. Weinstein, Y. Rodriguez, K. Sims, R. Vergara, “The CVS Prescription for Superior Customer Value—A Case Study,” Back to the Future: Revisiting the Foundations of Marketing from Society for Marketing Advances, West Palm Beach, FL (November 2, 2018).

Results of Using the PACADI Framework

When faculty members at our respective institutions at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) and the University of North Carolina Wilmington have used the PACADI framework, our classes have been more structured and engaging. Students vigorously debate each element of their decision and note that this framework yields an “aha moment”—they learned something surprising in the case that led them to think differently about the problem and their proposed solution.

These lively discussions enhance individual and collective learning. As one external metric of this improvement, we have observed a 2.5 percent increase in student case grade performance at NSU since this framework was introduced.

Tips to Get Started

The PACADI approach works well in in-person, online, and hybrid courses. This is particularly important as more universities have moved to remote learning options. Because students have varied educational and cultural backgrounds, work experience, and familiarity with case analysis, we recommend that faculty members have students work on their first case using this new framework in small teams (two or three students). Additional analyses should then be solo efforts.

To use PACADI effectively in your classroom, we suggest the following:

Advise your students that your course will stress critical thinking and decision-making skills, not just course concepts and theory.

Use a varied mix of case studies. As marketing professors, we often address consumer and business markets; goods, services, and digital commerce; domestic and global business; and small and large companies in a single MBA course.

As a starting point, provide a short explanation (about 20 to 30 minutes) of the PACADI framework with a focus on the conceptual elements. You can deliver this face to face or through videoconferencing.

Give students an opportunity to practice the case analysis methodology via an ungraded sample case study. Designate groups of five to seven students to discuss the case and the six steps in breakout sessions (in class or via Zoom).

Ensure case analyses are weighted heavily as a grading component. We suggest 30–50 percent of the overall course grade.

Once cases are graded, debrief with the class on what they did right and areas needing improvement (30- to 40-minute in-person or Zoom session).

Encourage faculty teams that teach common courses to build appropriate instructional materials, grading rubrics, videos, sample cases, and teaching notes.

When selecting case studies, we have found that the best ones for PACADI analyses are about 15 pages long and revolve around a focal management decision. This length provides adequate depth yet is not protracted. Some of our tested and favorite marketing cases include Brand W , Hubspot , Kraft Foods Canada , TRSB(A) , and Whiskey & Cheddar .

Art Weinstein

Art Weinstein , Ph.D., is a professor of marketing at Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He has published more than 80 scholarly articles and papers and eight books on customer-focused marketing strategy. His latest book is Superior Customer Value—Finding and Keeping Customers in the Now Economy . Dr. Weinstein has consulted for many leading technology and service companies.

Herbert V. Brotspies

Herbert V. Brotspies , D.B.A., is an adjunct professor of marketing at Nova Southeastern University. He has over 30 years’ experience as a vice president in marketing, strategic planning, and acquisitions for Fortune 50 consumer products companies working in the United States and internationally. His research interests include return on marketing investment, consumer behavior, business-to-business strategy, and strategic planning.

John T. Gironda

John T. Gironda , Ph.D., is an assistant professor of marketing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. His research has been published in Industrial Marketing Management, Psychology & Marketing , and Journal of Marketing Management . He has also presented at major marketing conferences including the American Marketing Association, Academy of Marketing Science, and Society for Marketing Advances.

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CASE TEACHING

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how can a case study analysis be beneficial in education

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Case Method Teaching and Learning

What is the case method? How can the case method be used to engage learners? What are some strategies for getting started? This guide helps instructors answer these questions by providing an overview of the case method while highlighting learner-centered and digitally-enhanced approaches to teaching with the case method. The guide also offers tips to instructors as they get started with the case method and additional references and resources.

On this page:

What is case method teaching.

  • Case Method at Columbia

Why use the Case Method?

Case method teaching approaches, how do i get started.

  • Additional Resources

The CTL is here to help!

For support with implementing a case method approach in your course, email [email protected] to schedule your 1-1 consultation .

Cite this resource: Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning (2019). Case Method Teaching and Learning. Columbia University. Retrieved from [today’s date] from https://ctl.columbia.edu/resources-and-technology/resources/case-method/  

Case method 1 teaching is an active form of instruction that focuses on a case and involves students learning by doing 2 3 . Cases are real or invented stories 4  that include “an educational message” or recount events, problems, dilemmas, theoretical or conceptual issue that requires analysis and/or decision-making.

Case-based teaching simulates real world situations and asks students to actively grapple with complex problems 5 6 This method of instruction is used across disciplines to promote learning, and is common in law, business, medicine, among other fields. See Table 1 below for a few types of cases and the learning they promote.

Table 1: Types of cases and the learning they promote.

For a more complete list, see Case Types & Teaching Methods: A Classification Scheme from the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science.

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Case Method Teaching and Learning at Columbia

The case method is actively used in classrooms across Columbia, at the Morningside campus in the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), the School of Business, Arts and Sciences, among others, and at Columbia University Irving Medical campus.

Faculty Spotlight:

Professor Mary Ann Price on Using Case Study Method to Place Pre-Med Students in Real-Life Scenarios

Read more  

Professor De Pinho on Using the Case Method in the Mailman Core

Case method teaching has been found to improve student learning, to increase students’ perception of learning gains, and to meet learning objectives 8 9 . Faculty have noted the instructional benefits of cases including greater student engagement in their learning 10 , deeper student understanding of concepts, stronger critical thinking skills, and an ability to make connections across content areas and view an issue from multiple perspectives 11 . 

Through case-based learning, students are the ones asking questions about the case, doing the problem-solving, interacting with and learning from their peers, “unpacking” the case, analyzing the case, and summarizing the case. They learn how to work with limited information and ambiguity, think in professional or disciplinary ways, and ask themselves “what would I do if I were in this specific situation?”

The case method bridges theory to practice, and promotes the development of skills including: communication, active listening, critical thinking, decision-making, and metacognitive skills 12 , as students apply course content knowledge, reflect on what they know and their approach to analyzing, and make sense of a case. 

Though the case method has historical roots as an instructor-centered approach that uses the Socratic dialogue and cold-calling, it is possible to take a more learner-centered approach in which students take on roles and tasks traditionally left to the instructor. 

Cases are often used as “vehicles for classroom discussion” 13 . Students should be encouraged to take ownership of their learning from a case. Discussion-based approaches engage students in thinking and communicating about a case. Instructors can set up a case activity in which students are the ones doing the work of “asking questions, summarizing content, generating hypotheses, proposing theories, or offering critical analyses” 14 . 

The role of the instructor is to share a case or ask students to share or create a case to use in class, set expectations, provide instructions, and assign students roles in the discussion. Student roles in a case discussion can include: 

  • discussion “starters” get the conversation started with a question or posing the questions that their peers came up with; 
  • facilitators listen actively, validate the contributions of peers, ask follow-up questions, draw connections, refocus the conversation as needed; 
  • recorders take-notes of the main points of the discussion, record on the board, upload to CourseWorks, or type and project on the screen; and 
  • discussion “wrappers” lead a summary of the main points of the discussion. 

Prior to the case discussion, instructors can model case analysis and the types of questions students should ask, co-create discussion guidelines with students, and ask for students to submit discussion questions. During the discussion, the instructor can keep time, intervene as necessary (however the students should be doing the talking), and pause the discussion for a debrief and to ask students to reflect on what and how they learned from the case activity. 

Note: case discussions can be enhanced using technology. Live discussions can occur via video-conferencing (e.g., using Zoom ) or asynchronous discussions can occur using the Discussions tool in CourseWorks (Canvas) .

Table 2 includes a few interactive case method approaches. Regardless of the approach selected, it is important to create a learning environment in which students feel comfortable participating in a case activity and learning from one another. See below for tips on supporting student in how to learn from a case in the “getting started” section and how to create a supportive learning environment in the Guide for Inclusive Teaching at Columbia . 

Table 2. Strategies for Engaging Students in Case-Based Learning

Approaches to case teaching should be informed by course learning objectives, and can be adapted for small, large, hybrid, and online classes. Instructional technology can be used in various ways to deliver, facilitate, and assess the case method. For instance, an online module can be created in CourseWorks (Canvas) to structure the delivery of the case, allow students to work at their own pace, engage all learners, even those reluctant to speak up in class, and assess understanding of a case and student learning. Modules can include text, embedded media (e.g., using Panopto or Mediathread ) curated by the instructor, online discussion, and assessments. Students can be asked to read a case and/or watch a short video, respond to quiz questions and receive immediate feedback, post questions to a discussion, and share resources. 

For more information about options for incorporating educational technology to your course, please contact your Learning Designer .

To ensure that students are learning from the case approach, ask them to pause and reflect on what and how they learned from the case. Time to reflect  builds your students’ metacognition, and when these reflections are collected they provides you with insights about the effectiveness of your approach in promoting student learning.

Well designed case-based learning experiences: 1) motivate student involvement, 2) have students doing the work, 3) help students develop knowledge and skills, and 4) have students learning from each other.  

Designing a case-based learning experience should center around the learning objectives for a course. The following points focus on intentional design. 

Identify learning objectives, determine scope, and anticipate challenges. 

  • Why use the case method in your course? How will it promote student learning differently than other approaches? 
  • What are the learning objectives that need to be met by the case method? What knowledge should students apply and skills should they practice? 
  • What is the scope of the case? (a brief activity in a single class session to a semester-long case-based course; if new to case method, start small with a single case). 
  • What challenges do you anticipate (e.g., student preparation and prior experiences with case learning, discomfort with discussion, peer-to-peer learning, managing discussion) and how will you plan for these in your design? 
  • If you are asking students to use transferable skills for the case method (e.g., teamwork, digital literacy) make them explicit. 

Determine how you will know if the learning objectives were met and develop a plan for evaluating the effectiveness of the case method to inform future case teaching. 

  • What assessments and criteria will you use to evaluate student work or participation in case discussion? 
  • How will you evaluate the effectiveness of the case method? What feedback will you collect from students? 
  • How might you leverage technology for assessment purposes? For example, could you quiz students about the case online before class, accept assignment submissions online, use audience response systems (e.g., PollEverywhere) for formative assessment during class? 

Select an existing case, create your own, or encourage students to bring course-relevant cases, and prepare for its delivery

  • Where will the case method fit into the course learning sequence? 
  • Is the case at the appropriate level of complexity? Is it inclusive, culturally relevant, and relatable to students? 
  • What materials and preparation will be needed to present the case to students? (e.g., readings, audiovisual materials, set up a module in CourseWorks). 

Plan for the case discussion and an active role for students

  • What will your role be in facilitating case-based learning? How will you model case analysis for your students? (e.g., present a short case and demo your approach and the process of case learning) (Davis, 2009). 
  • What discussion guidelines will you use that include your students’ input? 
  • How will you encourage students to ask and answer questions, summarize their work, take notes, and debrief the case? 
  • If students will be working in groups, how will groups form? What size will the groups be? What instructions will they be given? How will you ensure that everyone participates? What will they need to submit? Can technology be leveraged for any of these areas? 
  • Have you considered students of varied cognitive and physical abilities and how they might participate in the activities/discussions, including those that involve technology? 

Student preparation and expectations

  • How will you communicate about the case method approach to your students? When will you articulate the purpose of case-based learning and expectations of student engagement? What information about case-based learning and expectations will be included in the syllabus?
  • What preparation and/or assignment(s) will students complete in order to learn from the case? (e.g., read the case prior to class, watch a case video prior to class, post to a CourseWorks discussion, submit a brief memo, complete a short writing assignment to check students’ understanding of a case, take on a specific role, prepare to present a critique during in-class discussion).

Andersen, E. and Schiano, B. (2014). Teaching with Cases: A Practical Guide . Harvard Business Press. 

Bonney, K. M. (2015). Case Study Teaching Method Improves Student Performance and Perceptions of Learning Gains†. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education , 16 (1), 21–28. https://doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v16i1.846

Davis, B.G. (2009). Chapter 24: Case Studies. In Tools for Teaching. Second Edition. Jossey-Bass. 

Garvin, D.A. (2003). Making the Case: Professional Education for the world of practice. Harvard Magazine. September-October 2003, Volume 106, Number 1, 56-107.

Golich, V.L. (2000). The ABCs of Case Teaching. International Studies Perspectives. 1, 11-29. 

Golich, V.L.; Boyer, M; Franko, P.; and Lamy, S. (2000). The ABCs of Case Teaching. Pew Case Studies in International Affairs. Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. 

Heath, J. (2015). Teaching & Writing Cases: A Practical Guide. The Case Center, UK. 

Herreid, C.F. (2011). Case Study Teaching. New Directions for Teaching and Learning. No. 128, Winder 2011, 31 – 40. 

Herreid, C.F. (2007). Start with a Story: The Case Study Method of Teaching College Science . National Science Teachers Association. Available as an ebook through Columbia Libraries. 

Herreid, C.F. (2006). “Clicker” Cases: Introducing Case Study Teaching Into Large Classrooms. Journal of College Science Teaching. Oct 2006, 36(2). https://search.proquest.com/docview/200323718?pq-origsite=gscholar  

Krain, M. (2016). Putting the Learning in Case Learning? The Effects of Case-Based Approaches on Student Knowledge, Attitudes, and Engagement. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching. 27(2), 131-153. 

Lundberg, K.O. (Ed.). (2011). Our Digital Future: Boardrooms and Newsrooms. Knight Case Studies Initiative. 

Popil, I. (2011). Promotion of critical thinking by using case studies as teaching method. Nurse Education Today, 31(2), 204–207. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2010.06.002

Schiano, B. and Andersen, E. (2017). Teaching with Cases Online . Harvard Business Publishing. 

Thistlethwaite, JE; Davies, D.; Ekeocha, S.; Kidd, J.M.; MacDougall, C.; Matthews, P.; Purkis, J.; Clay D. (2012). The effectiveness of case-based learning in health professional education: A BEME systematic review . Medical Teacher. 2012; 34(6): e421-44. 

Yadav, A.; Lundeberg, M.; DeSchryver, M.; Dirkin, K.; Schiller, N.A.; Maier, K. and Herreid, C.F. (2007). Teaching Science with Case Studies: A National Survey of Faculty Perceptions of the Benefits and Challenges of Using Cases. Journal of College Science Teaching; Sept/Oct 2007; 37(1). 

Weimer, M. (2013). Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. Second Edition. Jossey-Bass.

Additional resources 

Teaching with Cases , Harvard Kennedy School of Government. 

Features “what is a teaching case?” video that defines a teaching case, and provides documents to help students prepare for case learning, Common case teaching challenges and solutions, tips for teaching with cases. 

Promoting excellence and innovation in case method teaching: Teaching by the Case Method , Christensen Center for Teaching & Learning. Harvard Business School. 

National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science . University of Buffalo. 

A collection of peer-reviewed STEM cases to teach scientific concepts and content, promote process skills and critical thinking. The Center welcomes case submissions. Case classification scheme of case types and teaching methods:

  • Different types of cases: analysis case, dilemma/decision case, directed case, interrupted case, clicker case, a flipped case, a laboratory case. 
  • Different types of teaching methods: problem-based learning, discussion, debate, intimate debate, public hearing, trial, jigsaw, role-play. 

Columbia Resources

Resources available to support your use of case method: The University hosts a number of case collections including: the Case Consortium (a collection of free cases in the fields of journalism, public policy, public health, and other disciplines that include teaching and learning resources; SIPA’s Picker Case Collection (audiovisual case studies on public sector innovation, filmed around the world and involving SIPA student teams in producing the cases); and Columbia Business School CaseWorks , which develops teaching cases and materials for use in Columbia Business School classrooms.

Center for Teaching and Learning

The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) offers a variety of programs and services for instructors at Columbia. The CTL can provide customized support as you plan to use the case method approach through implementation. Schedule a one-on-one consultation. 

Office of the Provost

The Hybrid Learning Course Redesign grant program from the Office of the Provost provides support for faculty who are developing innovative and technology-enhanced pedagogy and learning strategies in the classroom. In addition to funding, faculty awardees receive support from CTL staff as they redesign, deliver, and evaluate their hybrid courses.

The Start Small! Mini-Grant provides support to faculty who are interested in experimenting with one new pedagogical strategy or tool. Faculty awardees receive funds and CTL support for a one-semester period.

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  • The origins of this method can be traced to Harvard University where in 1870 the Law School began using cases to teach students how to think like lawyers using real court decisions. This was followed by the Business School in 1920 (Garvin, 2003). These professional schools recognized that lecture mode of instruction was insufficient to teach critical professional skills, and that active learning would better prepare learners for their professional lives. ↩
  • Golich, V.L. (2000). The ABCs of Case Teaching. International Studies Perspectives. 1, 11-29. ↩
  • Herreid, C.F. (2007). Start with a Story: The Case Study Method of Teaching College Science . National Science Teachers Association. Available as an ebook through Columbia Libraries. ↩
  • Davis, B.G. (2009). Chapter 24: Case Studies. In Tools for Teaching. Second Edition. Jossey-Bass. ↩
  • Andersen, E. and Schiano, B. (2014). Teaching with Cases: A Practical Guide . Harvard Business Press. ↩
  • Lundberg, K.O. (Ed.). (2011). Our Digital Future: Boardrooms and Newsrooms. Knight Case Studies Initiative. ↩
  • Heath, J. (2015). Teaching & Writing Cases: A Practical Guide. The Case Center, UK. ↩
  • Bonney, K. M. (2015). Case Study Teaching Method Improves Student Performance and Perceptions of Learning Gains†. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education , 16 (1), 21–28. https://doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v16i1.846 ↩
  • Krain, M. (2016). Putting the Learning in Case Learning? The Effects of Case-Based Approaches on Student Knowledge, Attitudes, and Engagement. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching. 27(2), 131-153. ↩
  • Thistlethwaite, JE; Davies, D.; Ekeocha, S.; Kidd, J.M.; MacDougall, C.; Matthews, P.; Purkis, J.; Clay D. (2012). The effectiveness of case-based learning in health professional education: A BEME systematic review . Medical Teacher. 2012; 34(6): e421-44. ↩
  • Yadav, A.; Lundeberg, M.; DeSchryver, M.; Dirkin, K.; Schiller, N.A.; Maier, K. and Herreid, C.F. (2007). Teaching Science with Case Studies: A National Survey of Faculty Perceptions of the Benefits and Challenges of Using Cases. Journal of College Science Teaching; Sept/Oct 2007; 37(1). ↩
  • Popil, I. (2011). Promotion of critical thinking by using case studies as teaching method. Nurse Education Today, 31(2), 204–207. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2010.06.002 ↩
  • Weimer, M. (2013). Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. Second Edition. Jossey-Bass. ↩
  • Herreid, C.F. (2006). “Clicker” Cases: Introducing Case Study Teaching Into Large Classrooms. Journal of College Science Teaching. Oct 2006, 36(2). https://search.proquest.com/docview/200323718?pq-origsite=gscholar ↩

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Case-based learning.

Case-based learning (CBL) is an established approach used across disciplines where students apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios, promoting higher levels of cognition (see Bloom’s Taxonomy ). In CBL classrooms, students typically work in groups on case studies, stories involving one or more characters and/or scenarios.  The cases present a disciplinary problem or problems for which students devise solutions under the guidance of the instructor. CBL has a strong history of successful implementation in medical, law, and business schools, and is increasingly used within undergraduate education, particularly within pre-professional majors and the sciences (Herreid, 1994). This method involves guided inquiry and is grounded in constructivism whereby students form new meanings by interacting with their knowledge and the environment (Lee, 2012).

There are a number of benefits to using CBL in the classroom. In a review of the literature, Williams (2005) describes how CBL: utilizes collaborative learning, facilitates the integration of learning, develops students’ intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to learn, encourages learner self-reflection and critical reflection, allows for scientific inquiry, integrates knowledge and practice, and supports the development of a variety of learning skills.

CBL has several defining characteristics, including versatility, storytelling power, and efficient self-guided learning.  In a systematic analysis of 104 articles in health professions education, CBL was found to be utilized in courses with less than 50 to over 1000 students (Thistlethwaite et al., 2012). In these classrooms, group sizes ranged from 1 to 30, with most consisting of 2 to 15 students.  Instructors varied in the proportion of time they implemented CBL in the classroom, ranging from one case spanning two hours of classroom time, to year-long case-based courses. These findings demonstrate that instructors use CBL in a variety of ways in their classrooms.

The stories that comprise the framework of case studies are also a key component to CBL’s effectiveness. Jonassen and Hernandez-Serrano (2002, p.66) describe how storytelling:

Is a method of negotiating and renegotiating meanings that allows us to enter into other’s realms of meaning through messages they utter in their stories,

Helps us find our place in a culture,

Allows us to explicate and to interpret, and

Facilitates the attainment of vicarious experience by helping us to distinguish the positive models to emulate from the negative model.

Neurochemically, listening to stories can activate oxytocin, a hormone that increases one’s sensitivity to social cues, resulting in more empathy, generosity, compassion and trustworthiness (Zak, 2013; Kosfeld et al., 2005). The stories within case studies serve as a means by which learners form new understandings through characters and/or scenarios.

CBL is often described in conjunction or in comparison with problem-based learning (PBL). While the lines are often confusingly blurred within the literature, in the most conservative of definitions, the features distinguishing the two approaches include that PBL involves open rather than guided inquiry, is less structured, and the instructor plays a more passive role. In PBL multiple solutions to the problem may exit, but the problem is often initially not well-defined. PBL also has a stronger emphasis on developing self-directed learning. The choice between implementing CBL versus PBL is highly dependent on the goals and context of the instruction.  For example, in a comparison of PBL and CBL approaches during a curricular shift at two medical schools, students and faculty preferred CBL to PBL (Srinivasan et al., 2007). Students perceived CBL to be a more efficient process and more clinically applicable. However, in another context, PBL might be the favored approach.

In a review of the effectiveness of CBL in health profession education, Thistlethwaite et al. (2012), found several benefits:

Students enjoyed the method and thought it enhanced their learning,

Instructors liked how CBL engaged students in learning,

CBL seemed to facilitate small group learning, but the authors could not distinguish between whether it was the case itself or the small group learning that occurred as facilitated by the case.

Other studies have also reported on the effectiveness of CBL in achieving learning outcomes (Bonney, 2015; Breslin, 2008; Herreid, 2013; Krain, 2016). These findings suggest that CBL is a vehicle of engagement for instruction, and facilitates an environment whereby students can construct knowledge.

Science – Students are given a scenario to which they apply their basic science knowledge and problem-solving skills to help them solve the case. One example within the biological sciences is two brothers who have a family history of a genetic illness. They each have mutations within a particular sequence in their DNA. Students work through the case and draw conclusions about the biological impacts of these mutations using basic science. Sample cases: You are Not the Mother of Your Children ; Organic Chemisty and Your Cellphone: Organic Light-Emitting Diodes ;   A Light on Physics: F-Number and Exposure Time

Medicine – Medical or pre-health students read about a patient presenting with specific symptoms. Students decide which questions are important to ask the patient in their medical history, how long they have experienced such symptoms, etc. The case unfolds and students use clinical reasoning, propose relevant tests, develop a differential diagnoses and a plan of treatment. Sample cases: The Case of the Crying Baby: Surgical vs. Medical Management ; The Plan: Ethics and Physician Assisted Suicide ; The Haemophilus Vaccine: A Victory for Immunologic Engineering

Public Health – A case study describes a pandemic of a deadly infectious disease. Students work through the case to identify Patient Zero, the person who was the first to spread the disease, and how that individual became infected.  Sample cases: The Protective Parent ; The Elusive Tuberculosis Case: The CDC and Andrew Speaker ; Credible Voice: WHO-Beijing and the SARS Crisis

Law – A case study presents a legal dilemma for which students use problem solving to decide the best way to advise and defend a client. Students are presented information that changes during the case.  Sample cases: Mortgage Crisis Call (abstract) ; The Case of the Unpaid Interns (abstract) ; Police-Community Dialogue (abstract)

Business – Students work on a case study that presents the history of a business success or failure. They apply business principles learned in the classroom and assess why the venture was successful or not. Sample cases: SELCO-Determining a path forward ; Project Masiluleke: Texting and Testing to Fight HIV/AIDS in South Africa ; Mayo Clinic: Design Thinking in Healthcare

Humanities - Students consider a case that presents a theater facing financial and management difficulties. They apply business and theater principles learned in the classroom to the case, working together to create solutions for the theater. Sample cases: David Geffen School of Drama

Recommendations

Finding and Writing Cases

Consider utilizing or adapting open access cases - The availability of open resources and databases containing cases that instructors can download makes this approach even more accessible in the classroom. Two examples of open databases are the Case Center on Public Leadership and Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Case Program , which focus on government, leadership and public policy case studies.

  • Consider writing original cases - In the event that an instructor is unable to find open access cases relevant to their course learning objectives, they may choose to write their own. See the following resources on case writing: Cooking with Betty Crocker: A Recipe for Case Writing ; The Way of Flesch: The Art of Writing Readable Cases ;   Twixt Fact and Fiction: A Case Writer’s Dilemma ; And All That Jazz: An Essay Extolling the Virtues of Writing Case Teaching Notes .

Implementing Cases

Take baby steps if new to CBL - While entire courses and curricula may involve case-based learning, instructors who desire to implement on a smaller-scale can integrate a single case into their class, and increase the number of cases utilized over time as desired.

Use cases in classes that are small, medium or large - Cases can be scaled to any course size. In large classes with stadium seating, students can work with peers nearby, while in small classes with more flexible seating arrangements, teams can move their chairs closer together. CBL can introduce more noise (and energy) in the classroom to which an instructor often quickly becomes accustomed. Further, students can be asked to work on cases outside of class, and wrap up discussion during the next class meeting.

Encourage collaborative work - Cases present an opportunity for students to work together to solve cases which the historical literature supports as beneficial to student learning (Bruffee, 1993). Allow students to work in groups to answer case questions.

Form diverse teams as feasible - When students work within diverse teams they can be exposed to a variety of perspectives that can help them solve the case. Depending on the context of the course, priorities, and the background information gathered about the students enrolled in the class, instructors may choose to organize student groups to allow for diversity in factors such as current course grades, gender, race/ethnicity, personality, among other items.  

Use stable teams as appropriate - If CBL is a large component of the course, a research-supported practice is to keep teams together long enough to go through the stages of group development: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning (Tuckman, 1965).

Walk around to guide groups - In CBL instructors serve as facilitators of student learning. Walking around allows the instructor to monitor student progress as well as identify and support any groups that may be struggling. Teaching assistants can also play a valuable role in supporting groups.

Interrupt strategically - Only every so often, for conversation in large group discussion of the case, especially when students appear confused on key concepts. An effective practice to help students meet case learning goals is to guide them as a whole group when the class is ready. This may include selecting a few student groups to present answers to discussion questions to the entire class, asking the class a question relevant to the case using polling software, and/or performing a mini-lesson on an area that appears to be confusing among students.  

Assess student learning in multiple ways - Students can be assessed informally by asking groups to report back answers to various case questions. This practice also helps students stay on task, and keeps them accountable. Cases can also be included on exams using related scenarios where students are asked to apply their knowledge.

Barrows HS. (1996). Problem-based learning in medicine and beyond: a brief overview. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 68, 3-12.  

Bonney KM. (2015). Case Study Teaching Method Improves Student Performance and Perceptions of Learning Gains. Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education, 16(1): 21-28.

Breslin M, Buchanan, R. (2008) On the Case Study Method of Research and Teaching in Design.  Design Issues, 24(1), 36-40.

Bruffee KS. (1993). Collaborative learning: Higher education, interdependence, and authority of knowledge. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.

Herreid CF. (2013). Start with a Story: The Case Study Method of Teaching College Science, edited by Clyde Freeman Herreid. Originally published in 2006 by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA); reprinted by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science (NCCSTS) in 2013.

Herreid CH. (1994). Case studies in science: A novel method of science education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 23(4), 221–229.

Jonassen DH and Hernandez-Serrano J. (2002). Case-based reasoning and instructional design: Using stories to support problem solving. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 50(2), 65-77.  

Kosfeld M, Heinrichs M, Zak PJ, Fischbacher U, Fehr E. (2005). Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature, 435, 673-676.

Krain M. (2016) Putting the learning in case learning? The effects of case-based approaches on student knowledge, attitudes, and engagement. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 27(2), 131-153.

Lee V. (2012). What is Inquiry-Guided Learning?  New Directions for Learning, 129:5-14.

Nkhoma M, Sriratanaviriyakul N. (2017). Using case method to enrich students’ learning outcomes. Active Learning in Higher Education, 18(1):37-50.

Srinivasan et al. (2007). Comparing problem-based learning with case-based learning: Effects of a major curricular shift at two institutions. Academic Medicine, 82(1): 74-82.

Thistlethwaite JE et al. (2012). The effectiveness of case-based learning in health professional education. A BEME systematic review: BEME Guide No. 23.  Medical Teacher, 34, e421-e444.

Tuckman B. (1965). Development sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(6), 384-99.

Williams B. (2005). Case-based learning - a review of the literature: is there scope for this educational paradigm in prehospital education? Emerg Med, 22, 577-581.

Zak, PJ (2013). How Stories Change the Brain. Retrieved from: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_stories_change_brain

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  • v.19(3); Fall 2020

Value of Case-Based Learning within STEM Courses: Is It the Method or Is It the Student?

Ashley rhodes.

† Division of Biology, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506

Abigail Wilson

Timothy rozell.

‡ Department of Animal Sciences and Industry, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506

Associated Data

Undergraduate attrition from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is well documented and generally intensifies during intermediate years of college. Many contributing factors exist; however, a mismatch between timing of certain pedagogical approaches, such as case-based learning, and the level of students’ cognitive abilities plays a crucial role. Using cognitive load theory as a foundation, we examined relationships between case-based learning versus a traditional lecture and learning gains of undergraduates within an intermediate physiology course. We hypothesized instruction via a case study would provide greater learning benefits over a traditional lecture, with gains possibly tempered by student characteristics like academic preparation, as measured by ACT scores, and academic age, as measured by credit hours completed. Results were surprising. Case-based learning did not guarantee improved learning gains compared with a traditional lecture for all equally. Students with lower ACT scores or fewer credit hours completed had lower learning gains with a case study compared with a traditional lecture. As suggested by cognitive load theory, the amount of extraneous load potentially presented by case-based learning might overwhelm the cognitive abilities of inexperienced students.

INTRODUCTION

Increasing the number of students completing a postsecondary degree within the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is crucial for building and maintaining a strong workforce, yet loss of students from these fields during their undergraduate years continues to be problematic ( President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2012 ; Graham et al. , 2013 ; Freeman et al. , 2014 ; Vilorio, 2014 ; Chen, 2015 ). Attrition from STEM fields may be caused by a number of complex factors that challenge both educators and students alike. For example, attrition has been linked to large classroom sizes; rapid pace of information delivery; a competitive atmosphere; uninspiring pedagogy that is seemingly irrelevant to the lives of students, causing a loss of interest; inability to see presented information as a cohesive whole; or simply feeling that they do not belong in STEM ( Jozefowicz, 1994 ; Herreid et al. , 2012 ; President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology [PCAST], 2012 ; Graham et al. , 2013 ; Freeman et al. , 2014 ; Scott et al. , 2017 ; Fisher et al. , 2019 ). However, it is also possible that a mismatch in the timing of pedagogical tools used and the individual learning needs of students could also cause attrition from STEM fields. For example, Wood (2009) suggested that superior [SIC] students will progress from introductory to upper-level courses during their undergraduate years regardless of the teaching method used. However, students considered to be less academically oriented or self-motivated who leave STEM fields early in their college careers might do so because the curricular methods used are often seen as nothing more than a large collection of disconnected facts that rarely have much relevance to their daily lives and will soon be forgotten ( Wood, 2009 ). Wood (2009) concluded that, for this group of students, the issue lies not in what we teach but in how we teach. This conclusion is both encouraging and yet perhaps a little puzzling for educators, many of whom go to great lengths to help all students within their courses succeed. While some suggestions for helping to alleviate the dissonance between academic preparation and success within STEM courses have been made, they sometimes appear ambiguous or perhaps too complex for educators to tackle. For example, improving student preparation during junior high and high school could translate to better success in college ( Ejiwale, 2013 ). Additionally, improving STEM instructor preparation at multiple levels could be helpful ( Goldhaber and Brewer, 1998 ; Ingersoll and Perda, 2010 ; PCAST, 2012 ). Also, adding more engaging activities within STEM courses could be beneficial for helping underprepared students see connections between in-class learning and real-life applications ( Villanueva and Hand, 2011 ; Kennedy and Odell, 2014 ).

In contrast to some of these more open-ended suggestions, one solution that has been promoted for increasing student success in STEM is the use of active-learning approaches such as case-based learning ( Lundeberg, 2008 ; Kaddoura, 2011 ; McRae, 2012 ; Herreid and Schiller, 2013 ; Greenwald and Quitadamo, 2014 ; Stains et al. , 2018 ). Case-based learning encourages students to use techniques that help them integrate, synthesize, and apply newly learned information to a broader context, both to help them see the value of what they are learning and to foster critical-thinking skills ( Jozefowicz, 1994 ; Graham et al. , 2013 ; Greenwald and Quitadamo, 2014 ).

Case-based learning can take many forms but generally relies upon the use of a case study that describes a specific situation or clinical case and requires students to work through the information to generate solutions and solve problems ( Herreid, 2006 ; Wood, 2009 ; Popil, 2011 ; Savery, 2015 ; McLean, 2016 ). Case studies can vary substantially in length, format, delivery, and the type of media included. Cases may emphasize problem solving, debates, flexible thinking, development of alternative strategies, and even the use of skepticism ( Herreid, 2004 ). Implementing cases within courses can also vary, but according to Herreid (1998) , four major classifications exist in regard to what students do: participate in small-group activities, participate in discussions, listen to a lecture, or work alone completing an individual assignment. Thus, when or how a case study is delivered to students, the responsibilities of students, interactions between students, and even case study assignments that entail students working individually or in groups all vary ( Popil, 2011 ; Thistlethwaite et al. , 2012 ).

Comparing case-based learning to more traditional forms of learning has resulted in reports of increased learning gains ( Kaddoura, 2011 ; Bonney, 2015 ), decreased learning gains ( Andrews et al. , 2011 ; Thistlethwaite et al. , 2012 ), and no significant changes ( Dochy et al. , 2003 ; Halstead and Billings, 2005 ; Hoag et al. , 2005 ; Terry, 2007 ; Kulak and Newton, 2014 ). Some researchers have also reported that case-based learning is effective, but only if supported by supplementary didactic lectures that structured student understanding of the material ( Cliff, 2006 ; Baeten et al. , 2013 ), or that case-based learning improved student attitudes but not always student learning ( Wilke, 2003 ). This disparity could be caused by several factors. For example, it is not currently known how much background knowledge or preparation students should have before they can effectively engage with case-based activities ( McLean, 2016 ), when and how instructors should deliver these activities ( Lundeberg, 2008 ), and how much instructor guidance is required ( McRae, 2012 ).

It is possible that the existing uncertainty regarding who exactly benefits from case-based learning in comparison to other teaching methods could be due to the number of studies primarily relying upon survey data to make conclusions as to the value of this approach ( Cliff and Wright, 1996 ; Knight et al. , 2008 ; McLean, 2016 ; Kaur et al. , 2019 ) and the number of studies that did not use a control and thus lacked a true experimental design ( Greenwald, and Quitadamo, 2014 ; Kulak and Newton, 2014 ). Furthermore, few authors have specifically investigated the utility and potential benefits of case-based learning in regard to certain undergraduate student characteristics or provided clear guidance regarding when and how to use case-based learning within undergraduate courses ( Lundeberg, 2008 ; Kulak and Newton, 2014 ; McLean, 2016 ). Thus, we believe our overarching research question is important when using case-based learning within undergraduate STEM courses: For whom is it useful?

Theoretical Framework

Cognitive load theory (CLT) serves as the foundation for this research, as it provides guidance for investigating relationships between instructional design and student learning gains ( Paas et al. , 2003a ). According to CLT, cognitive processes, and thus learning, are impacted by three types of cognitive loads: extraneous load, intrinsic load, and germane load. These loads are additive and must be appropriately managed for optimal learning, but how they are managed differs based on student characteristics such as previous academic experiences, prior knowledge, and learning preferences. For example, extraneous loads, defined as superfluous information that does not directly relate to learning objectives, should be minimized wherever possible. This is especially true for novice learners, whose ability to take in new information can quickly be overloaded, even when completing common tasks such as searching for and applying information to solve a problem ( Paas et al. , 2003a ). In contrast, intrinsic loads, defined as the degree of difficulty inherent to a discipline, can be more difficult for instructors to manage. Intrinsic load must be supported by appropriately scaffolding information, but should never be minimized, as simplification could give an artificial impression of the discipline and potentially erode the ability to critically think about the information in future contexts ( Paas et al. , 2003a ). However, the degree of scaffolding required is unique for each learner; thus, designing a curriculum or even an individual activity that appropriately manages intrinsic load becomes difficult, especially in large courses with diverse enrollment. According to Paas et al. (2003a ), the key to successfully managing intrinsic load is to consider element interactivity, or the number of interacting items, that must be simultaneously managed to understand a concept. If this number is high, which is often the case within STEM courses, then additional instructional support is often required; for novices, the recommendation is to omit all but the most essential interacting elements. Germane loads, defined as the amount of effort a learner is willing to expend to understand a concept, can be positively impacted by instructional design, but only if the needs of the learner are matched and supported by the way in which information is presented. For example, learners who have little background in a subject, and thus underdeveloped abilities to synthesize and use new information, benefit from instructional tools that present information directly and do not require searching for or synthesis of abstract ideas, while the opposite is true for learners who have prior and positive experiences with the subject ( Paas et al. , 2003a , b ; Sweller et al. , 2011 ; Young et al. , 2014 ).

Conceptual Framework

Using CLT as a theoretical framework, we explored potential relationships between comprehension of complex information that had a high intrinsic load, the experience of learners based upon individual characteristics such as level of academic preparation, and two distinct instructional formats that varied in amount of extrinsic load yet contained the same content. One instructional format included the use of an interactive case study that was designed to engage students with a story and scaffold their nascent understanding of the information presented by chunking information into manageable sections, each one containing explanatory text, interactive graphics, and critical-thinking questions. While carefully designed and aligned with suggestions on case study development, this format did carry a higher extrinsic load due to the number of interacting elements that had to be considered in order to understand the information.

The second instructional format represented a more traditional teaching method and included a didactic lecture using bulleted PowerPoint slides that also included the same graphics presented within the case study; however, the lecture format was devoid of interactive activities and questions and involved only a lecture during which students mostly listened but were allowed to ask questions at any time. This format had a lower extrinsic load due to the decreased number of interacting elements that needed to be considered at any given time to understand the information.

These two instructional formats were used within a large, intermediate-level undergraduate physiology course with a diverse student body that varied in age and academic preparation. However, all were majoring in a STEM discipline, and many aspired to matriculate into a professional school upon graduation. Thus, while variation did exist within the population, we believe it is an accurate portrayal of the natural variation found within most large STEM courses at this level.

To examine the utility of case-based learning and the benefits it may provide in regard to specific student characteristics in comparison to a more conventional format of learning, we investigated the following two research questions:

  • Compared with a conventional learning format such as a traditional lecture, how do student learning gains differ when using a case study?
  • How do student characteristics such as general academic preparation and credit hours completed relate to learning gains derived from the use a case study?

Setting and Participants

This study took place at a large, midwestern, land-grant university with an admissions acceptance rate of 94%. Participants were recruited from an intermediate (300 level at a university in which undergraduate courses start at 100 and go through 600) physiology course offered within a biology department. During the semester in which the study was conducted, the course was open to all students who had completed introductory biology and chemistry courses and received a “B” or better in both. Furthermore, this course was an 8 credit-hour course that included several components such as lecture, laboratory, and cadaver dissection; thus, most students were very committed to learning, as their grades would have had a significant impact on their overall grade point averages. Applications of course material on exams and quizzes tended to be focused on human health and applications to allied health professions. The average ACT score of students was 26.6. Of the 134 students enrolled, all chose to participate, although only 122 completed all portions of the study due to absences. The final distribution of students completing all components of the study represented a mixture of 34 sophomores, 59 juniors, and 29 seniors. Information related to gender and ethnicity was not tracked.

Participation in the study was voluntary, and all activities were approved by our Institutional Review Board (IRB protocol no. 7028). Students were awarded a small amount of extra credit for participating. Students were provided the option of an alternative assignment if they did not want to participate; however, none selected this option.

Development of Case Study and Conventional Lecture Treatments

Both the case study and conventional lecture were created by the authors to specifically deliver information about insulin resistance and its progression to type II diabetes. Not only do these topics encompass suggestions by Michael et al. (2017) about pertinent concepts that should be taught within undergraduate physiology courses, such as flow-down gradients between blood and interstitial fluid and details of cell membranes, but they also align well with suggestions made by Allen et al. (1996) regarding topic selection for the design of critical-thinking activities. The case study was created using a design-based research process that entailed four iterations. Each iteration was reviewed by graduate teaching assistants as well as three STEM instructors. After each iteration, feedback was used to revise and improve the case study. The final iteration of the case study authored by Wilson et al. (2017) was peer reviewed and published by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science.

The case study included a short story about an individual who, through diet and lack of exercise, proceeded through the stages of insulin resistance and pre-diabetes and eventually developed type II diabetes. Immediately following each section about this individual’s story, accompanying informational text as well as interactive figures and graphics describing the physiology of what was occurring were presented. The story, text, and graphics were presented in small sections, a strategy known as chunking, which is encouraged when presenting complex information that has multiple interacting elements ( Mayer and Moreno, 2003 ). The interactive figures and graphics, which displayed the same information presented within the text, required students to apply what they had just read to complete them as described by carefully written instructions. And finally, critical-thinking questions were placed at the end of each section or chunk, and students were asked to think about what they had just learned before moving to the next section. Figure 1 provides a sample of the case study design features.

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Typical features of the case study design. This particular portion was taken midway through the case study after students had been presented with information about the basics of carbohydrate breakdown in the digestive system. Specific features related to chunking and scaffolding include a short story, a small amount of explanatory text, and instructions explaining how to interact with a graphical feature designed to help students visualize the information. Additionally, the explanatory text and visuals were placed very close to each other, and vocabulary used in the explanatory text matched vocabulary used in the visual in order to reduce cognitive load.

Students in the lecture treatment, which consisted of a traditional lecture with PowerPoint slides and accompanying handouts of the slides, received the same physiological information presented in the case study. For example, the lecture and handouts included static versions of the figures and graphics found in the case study, and these were described directly to students by the instructor. This presentation was also subjected to four iterations of review and improvement by graduate students and other STEM instructors. Thus, the major differences between the case study and conventional lecture treatment groups were that students in the latter group were not presented with a story or required to complete activities associated with the graphics. In short, the conventional lecture contained little to no extraneous information.

Implementation of Treatments

Both treatments were administered during regularly scheduled lab periods within a single week of the semester and before any presentation of glucose homeostasis by the primary instructor in either lecture or lab. At the beginning of each treatment, the same instructor provided a brief overview of the activities and goals. For the case study group, this also included instructions on how to work through the case and specifically how to interact with the graphics. This instructor was the lead author of the case study and conventional lecture treatment and was also a lab instructor for the course; thus, comfort level with techniques, delivery, students, and content was high.

Students in both treatments were instructed to work alone, as one of our main objectives was to correlate student characteristics such as academic preparation and experience with learning gains when extrinsic load was varied between treatments. Thus, we purposefully did not allow students to work in groups, as this would have made our data difficult to interpret in regard to individual student gains. However, students in both treatments were told several times they could ask the instructor questions at any time while working through the case study or listening to the lecture.

Experimental Design

Using the pretest/posttest comparison group design ( Campbell and Stanley, 1963 ), we assessed differences in student learning gains resulting from the use of a case study versus a conventional lecture over the same concepts. Participants were recruited using a convenience sampling method, with 122 completing all components of the study, which included a prior knowledge assessment (PKA; Rhodes and Rozell, 2017 ), a modified version of the Student Approach to Learning (SAL) survey ( Marsh et al. , 2006 ; Rhodes and Rozell, 2017 ), a pretest, a learning treatment, and a posttest. Experimental design components and schedule are described in Figure 2 .

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Experimental design. Students completed the PKA and SAL survey on the first day of class, then a topic-specific pretest was given a week before randomizing participants into either the case study or conventional lecture treatment. A posttest, which was identical to the pretest, was given immediately after each treatment. Not shown in this graphic is the collection of ACT scores, which occurred at the end of the semester after final grades had been submitted.

The PKA was used to assess the background knowledge of students about core physiological concepts and was administered on the first day of class. The PKA (Appendix A in the Supplemental Material) consisted of 10 multiple-choice questions, with each question potentially having multiple correct answers. To receive the full point(s) for each question, students had to have selected all the correct answers and none of the incorrect answers on this assessment. This grading procedure was used to reduce awarding points for guessing. Students received 1 extra credit point for completing the PKA that was not dependent on the score. The PKA was created and refined over a period of several years within this specific course before being used in this study.

For evaluating how students approach learning new information presented to them in a formal course setting, a modified version of the SAL survey was used (Appendix B in the Supplemental Material). This survey was designed to assesses a variety of student characteristics, such as self-regulated learning strategies, motivation, confidence, and learning preferences ( Marsh et al. , 2006 ). For this study, we only selected questions from the SAL that evaluated the self-regulated learning strategies of students, specifically memorization and elaboration, and generated an individual SAL metric for each student, as previously described by Rhodes and Rozell (2017) . This metric could then be used to quantify and compare results from the SAL with other components of the study.

Pretest and Posttest

Both the pretest and posttest (Appendix C in the Supplemental Material) consisted of 10 multiple-choice questions that could have multiple correct answers. Full points for each question were awarded only if every correct answer had to be selected and none of the incorrect answers selected. As with the PKA, this all-or-nothing grading scheme was used to reduce the chance of receiving full credit due to guessing.

To ensure that questions asked on the posttest were appropriate and understandable for students after receiving either treatment, we applied an item difficulty index (IDI) before analyzing statistical results related to the research questions. As discussed by Tavakol and Dennick (2011) , this metric can be used to determine whether a question effectively measured comprehension by students after receiving a particular form of instruction. The following formula was used to calculate the IDI, where R is the number of students who answered the question correctly; N is the number of total responses, including those that were correct, incorrect, or left blank; and i refers to the question number:

equation image

While the IDI can range from 0 to 1, with very difficult questions having a score nearing 0 and very easy questions have a score approaching 1, the IDI of each question should have ideally ranged between 0.3 and 0.8 ( Tavakol and Dennick, 2011 ). The IDI for question 10 on the posttest was outside the ideal range, possibly due to the complexity of the question. Statistical analyses were performed both with and without question 10, but results did not change. Results of the IDI are shown in Table 1 .

Results of the Item Difficulty Index.

The ACT College Readiness Assessment

The ACT is a standardized college entrance exam that assesses college readiness and is often a prerequisite when applying to colleges. After gaining permission from student participants and our IRB, ACT scores were collected from the university’s online information system after the semester was over.

Credit Hours Completed

The number of total credit hours completed at the start of the study was collected and used as a metric of academic age or experience. After gaining permission from student participants and our IRB, information was retrieved via the online university information system.

Statistical Analyses

All data were analyzed using IBM’s SPSS v. 26. Differences between means were evaluated using one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA). Correlations between variables for student data were calculated using Spearman’s rank-order correlation test. This test was selected as it is slightly more conservative than Pearson’s, our data were monotonic, and we included more than one outlier for each correlation performed. Statistical significance was defined as p ≤ 0.05.

Our analyses yielded several noteworthy and unexpected results. In regard to our first research question, “Compared with a conventional learning format such as a traditional lecture, how do student learning gains differ when using a case study?,” we found no differences by treatment ( Figure 3 ). Using a one-way ANOVA, we found that the means of posttest scores for students in the case study group were not statistically different from students in the conventional lecture group, F (1, 119) = 0.025, p = 0.874. Furthermore, learning gains of students in the case study group were not statistically different from those of students in the conventional lecture group, F (1, 119) = 0.027, p = 0.946.

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Results of pretest, posttest, and learning gains by treatment. Values on the y-axis are points earned on the identical pretest and posttest assessments, with potential scores ranging from 0 to 10. Both pretests and posttests were graded “all or none” to avoid guessing. For each student, the pretest score was subtracted from the posttest score to calculate learning gains. Bars shown are means plus or minus SD. No statistical differences were found between means for any of the parameters tested ( p ≥ 0.05).

For further verification, learning gains by treatments were also analyzed using the average normalized gain equation for estimating the impacts of case-based learning as developed by Hake ( 1998a , b ), where (Post − Pre)/(10 − Pre). Normalized learning gain was 0.40 for the case study treatment and 0.39 for the conventional lecture group, corroborating that no statistical differences existed in learning gains by treatments.

In regard to our second research question, “How do student characteristics such as general academic preparation and credit hours completed relate to learning gains derived from the use of a case study?,” we found that the benefit of case-based learning was correlated with certain student characteristics. The use of a case study did not automatically translate to higher learning gains for all. Instead, it appears as though certain student characteristics predicted learning gains when case-based learning was used but this was not true when traditional didactic lectures were used. For example, as displayed in Figures 4A through ​ through7A, 7A , positive and significant correlations existed between learning gains from the use of a case study and prior knowledge levels, r (59) = 0.275, p = 0.034; preferences for elaboration over memorization as measured by the SAL metric, r (59) = 0.270, p = 0.039; ACT scores, r (53) = 0.479, p = 0.000; and college credit hours completed, r (61) = 0.299, p = 0.019. However, as shown in Figures 3B through ​ through7B, 7 B, no relationships existed between learning gains from the use of a traditional lecture and student characteristics such as prior knowledge levels, r (60) = 0.012, p = 0.872; preference for elaboration over memorization as measured by the SAL metric, r (56) = −0.056, p = 0.680; or college credit hours completed, r (60) = −0.024, p = 0.855. A positive and significant correlation did exist between ACT scores and learning gains from a traditional lecture, r (52) = 0.276, p = 0.047.

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Effect of prior knowledge on learning gains. Participants were given a prior knowledge quiz that consisted of 10 multiple-choice questions with multiple potential correct answers, graded all or none. Identical pretest and posttest quizzes over the specific topics covered by the case study (A) or lecture (B) treatments consisted of 10 multiple-choice questions with multiple potential correct answers, graded all or none. Learning gains were calculated by subtracting pretest score from posttest score for each participant. A Spearman’s rank-order correlation test was used to determine relationships between prior physiology knowledge and learning gains, and correlations were considered to be significant at p ≤ 0.05.

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Effect of academic experience on learning gains. The number of credit hours completed was collected for participants with their permission. Identical pretest and posttest quizzes over the specific topics covered by the case study (A) or lecture (B) treatments consisted of 10 multiple-choice questions with multiple potential correct answers, graded all or none. Learning gains were calculated by subtracting pretest score from posttest score for each participant. A Spearman’s rank-order correlation test was used to determine relationships between college credits completed and learning gains, and correlations were considered to be significant at p ≤ 0.05.

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Effect of participant’s approach to learning on learning gains. Participants were given a survey (the SAL) that assessed their preferred approach to learning on a five-point Likert scale, and a calculated SAL metric was used to quantify whether the preferred approach was memorization (SAL metric scores) or elaboration (higher SAL metric scores). Identical pretests and posttests over the specific topics covered by the case study (A) or lecture (B) treatments consisted of 10 multiple-choice questions with multiple potential correct answers, graded all or none. Learning gains were calculated by subtracting pretest score from posttest score for each participant. A Spearman’s rank-order correlation test was used to determine relationships between SAL metric scores and learning gains, and correlations were considered to be significant at p ≤ 0.05.

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Effect of standardized test performance on learning gains. Scores from the ACT exam taken before college entrance were collected with permission of the participants. Identical pretest and posttest quizzes over the specific topics covered by the case study (A) or lecture (B) treatments consisted of 10 multiple-choice questions with multiple potential correct answers, graded all or none. Learning gains were calculated by subtracting pretest score from posttest score for each participant. A Spearman’s rank-order correlation test was used to determine relationships between ACT scores and learning gains, and correlations were considered to be significant at p ≤ 0.05.

CONCLUSION AND DISCUSSION

The overarching purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between the use of case-based learning within an intermediate-level undergraduate STEM course and correlate specific student characteristics such as academic preparation and experience with learning gains. We were specifically interested to see whether case-based learning represented a beneficial and equitable form of learning for all participants, or, as predicted by CLT, whether some students perhaps benefited more from a traditional lecture due to its simpler structure and reduced cognitive load. We were also interested in providing realistic suggestions to other educators who may be considering the use of case-based learning in their courses in piecemeal manner to replace certain lectures or perhaps a laboratory activity but are unable to replace an entire semester’s curriculum given the resources required ( Colliver, 2000 ). As explained by Aikens and Dolan (2014) and Albanese (2000) , replacing single lessons or activities is more realistic when trying something different in most courses. Also, given the findings of Stains et al. (2018) , most STEM instructors naturally move between different teaching formats, even within a single teaching period. Thus, providing evidence-based guidance on when to use certain formats and with which population of students may help direct the timing and implementation of certain activities.

In regard to our first research question, “Compared with a conventional learning format such as a traditional lecture, how do student learning gains differ when using a case study?,” we found no differences between treatments. Our findings were consistent with those of other authors such as Hoag et al. (2005) , who found no difference in learning gains between the use of a case study compared with a didactic lecture for students enrolled in an undergraduate immunology course when assessing critical-thinking skills via a multiple-choice test. Similarly, Terry (2007) assessed introductory biology students’ critical-thinking skills using the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking assessment and found no differences between students in a case-based learning group versus a traditional lecture group. Furthermore, in a study conducted by Baeten et al. (2013) , which compared case-based learning with traditional lectures, it was found that case-based learning did not produce deeper learning unless supplemented with a well-structured didactic lecture first, so that students could understand the content discussed in the case study before attempting to complete it. This finding was similar to that described by Cliff (2006) , who reported that, if case-based learning was used in an undergraduate STEM course, additional supplementation with well-structured material was often required to help students understand content. And finally, Dochy et al. (2003) conducted a meta-analysis comparing case-based learning to learning via traditional lectures in a clinical skills course for medical students and found that, while application of knowledge and higher-order thinking for professional students using case-based learning was higher immediately after the case-based learning experience, there were no differences between groups when given multiple-choice posttests measuring accumulated and retained knowledge at a later point.

For our second research question we asked, “How do student characteristics such as general academic preparation and credit hours completed relate to learning gains derived from the use of a case study?,” and attempted to isolate case-based learning benefits by certain student characteristics. This question was not only driven by the lack of information specifically addressing who benefits from case-based learning within undergraduate STEM courses, but also by other authors such as Lundeberg (2008) and Yadav et al. (2007) who questioned how much background students should have to be successful when using case-based learning. We found that success with case-based learning is likely predicted by certain student characteristics, such as having a stronger academic background coming out of high school, as indicated by the correlations between ACT scores and learning gains, or having more college experience, as indicated by the correlations in our study between college credit hours completed and learning gains. Our results were consistent with other authors investigating similar questions with undergraduate students. For example, Halstead and Billings (2005) found that case-based learning may become frustrating for less-prepared students or those who are used to more traditional methods. Similarly, McRae (2012) stated that “case studies can cause confusion and cognitive frustration if students do not have the prerequisite knowledge to handle the information” (p. 1175).

Our results, as well as those reported by Halstead and Billings (2005) and McRae (2012) , can perhaps be explained by CLT, which provides a framework for understanding the relationship between cognitive processes of learners and the structure of information ( Paas et al. , 2003a ). According to this theory, when novice learners are attempting to comprehend complex information consisting of multiple interacting elements, especially for the first time, extraneous details should be minimized, as they can quickly overload novice learners’ cognitive abilities. Although we did not directly test for this, it is likely that the story, explanatory text, and interactive graphics that were part of the case study presented too much extraneous detail for some students. It is also possible the interactive graphics themselves, which required a student to have a certain level of reading comprehension to extract pertinent information from the story and apply it correctly to a graphic, were too overwhelming. In comparison, the traditional learning format used in this study, which consisted of a basic PowerPoint presentation and didactic lecture, contained little to no extraneous information and required a much lower level of reading comprehension. Perhaps as a student gains more experience and his or her cognitive abilities evolve, the addition of extraneous details can be beneficial, as it makes the information more interesting and challenging and encourages the student to see how elements interact. This notion was also supported by Paas et al. (2003a ), who suggested the addition of previously omitted details can foster a deeper level of understanding for more advanced learners, and is also reinforced by McParland et al. (2004) , who found that older students were less likely to use surface learning approaches, such as memorization, and were thus more likely to be able to make meaning from complex activities.

Summarizing our findings in light of outcomes reported by other authors, we believe our results provide several novel additions to the field of case-based learning. First, the use of a case study by itself might not always yield increased learning gains compared with more traditional teaching methods, especially if students are asked to work through the case study individually. This is more likely to be true if students have less background and academic preparation or have less college experience in general. It is also more likely to be true if students rely upon memorization when learning new information and are unsure of how to assimilate information, as indicated by our correlations, which show relationships between student approach to learning and learning gains with a case study versus a lecture. In large-enrollment courses, where there is likely to be variation regarding student abilities, it is possible that a more traditional form of teaching such as a lecture, at least initially, might represent a more equitable form of learning. After the playing field has been leveled, so to speak, case-based learning may become more useful to more students. This is consistent with work by McLean (2016) , who concluded that advance preparation of the student was necessary for case-based learning to be effective and after that cases could be a powerful stimulant for learning. Second, our study provides helpful insights into the benefits and drawbacks of using case-based learning with an often-overlooked population of students: intermediate-level undergraduates. Given that attrition rates from STEM often intensify during this time, especially for lower-performing students ( Strenta et al. , 1994 ; Seymour and Hewitt, 1997 ; Maltese and Tai, 2010 ; PCAST, 2012 ), having some information about which teaching tools to use or avoid at certain time points could be beneficial.

We would like to acknowledge that many studies supporting case-based learning have been reported with nursing students ( Kaddoura, 2011 ; Popil, 2011 ), medical students ( Wood, 2009 ; Nair et al. , 2013 ; McLean, 2016 ; Kaur et al. , 2019 ), graduate students ( McRae, 2012 ), and even vetted upper-level undergraduates enrolled in a majors course ( Cliff and Wright, 1996 ; Knight et al. , 2008 ; Greenwald and Quitadamo, 2014 ). In fact, according to McLean (2016) , medicine represented almost 73% of published studies, followed by dentistry at 5%, pharmacy at 5%, and nursing at 3%, while published studies detailing the use of case-based learning in mixed, undergraduate courses represented 1.4% of the articles published globally (p. 41). Clearly, fewer researchers have examined when and how to use case-based learning with intermediate-level undergraduates, leaving many questions for educators who teach at this level.

As with any study, this one was not without limitations. For example, we specifically wanted to examine relationships between individual students and case-based learning versus a more traditional form of learning, and to do this, we had students work by themselves in both treatments. Typically, case-based learning is done with students working in groups. However, group work can often mask the performance of lower-achieving students, as a small minority of students can dominate group work ( Lundeberg, 2008 ). This idea was also supported by McRae (2012) , who reported that, when students worked in groups as part of case-based learning, lower-performing students often rode the coattails of better-performing students and may have learned less than they appeared to learn. Additionally, it is possible that students with lower reading comprehension gained less when learning with a case study compared with a traditional lecture. We did not collect or assess reading comprehension scores, but it would be something to consider for the future, given the typical reliance upon reading skills when learning from a case study. Furthermore, empirically assessing the value of different types of activities within a case study, such as multimedia or other interactive features that help students scaffold their nascent understanding of the information provided by the case study, would be a helpful addition to the literature. It is very possible that case studies could become a powerful tool to help engage underprepared students if the right supportive features were included. And finally, we would like to acknowledge that learning gains in both treatments used in this study were lower than we had hoped and perhaps indicate that the concepts presented were too difficult for students at this level, and this could have impacted our results.

In conclusion, while case-based learning increased learning gains for some students, it is possible that these gains may not be equally achievable by all students within large undergraduate courses due to the diversity of student characteristics. The advantages of case-based learning are likely more tangible for students who have stronger academic backgrounds and are better equipped to assimilate information from multiple sources when learning new concepts as opposed to relying upon memorization and for those with more college experience. In large, diverse, undergraduate courses, we believe it is important to provide a more equitable form of learning for all students, and in these instances, we suggest supporting case-based learning activities with other pedagogical tools, including didactic lectures. It is possible that the provision of complex information, made upfront or ahead of time in a more simplified and scaffolded format, could reduce the cognitive load some students may experience while trying to navigate and learn from a case study. And finally, we suggest measuring and carefully considering the current level of development of students when selecting tools such as case studies for use in undergraduate courses; matching the timing of certain educational approaches with the current cognitive load capacity of students is likely key to effective learning.

Supplementary Material

Acknowledgments.

Publication of this article was funded in part by the Kansas State University Open Access Publishing Fund.

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5 Benefits of Learning Through the Case Study Method

Harvard Business School MBA students learning through the case study method

  • 28 Nov 2023

While several factors make HBS Online unique —including a global Community and real-world outcomes —active learning through the case study method rises to the top.

In a 2023 City Square Associates survey, 74 percent of HBS Online learners who also took a course from another provider said HBS Online’s case method and real-world examples were better by comparison.

Here’s a primer on the case method, five benefits you could gain, and how to experience it for yourself.

Access your free e-book today.

What Is the Harvard Business School Case Study Method?

The case study method , or case method , is a learning technique in which you’re presented with a real-world business challenge and asked how you’d solve it. After working through it yourself and with peers, you’re told how the scenario played out.

HBS pioneered the case method in 1922. Shortly before, in 1921, the first case was written.

“How do you go into an ambiguous situation and get to the bottom of it?” says HBS Professor Jan Rivkin, former senior associate dean and chair of HBS's master of business administration (MBA) program, in a video about the case method . “That skill—the skill of figuring out a course of inquiry to choose a course of action—that skill is as relevant today as it was in 1921.”

Originally developed for the in-person MBA classroom, HBS Online adapted the case method into an engaging, interactive online learning experience in 2014.

In HBS Online courses , you learn about each case from the business professional who experienced it. After reviewing their videos, you’re prompted to take their perspective and explain how you’d handle their situation.

You then get to read peers’ responses, “star” them, and comment to further the discussion. Afterward, you learn how the professional handled it and their key takeaways.

HBS Online’s adaptation of the case method incorporates the famed HBS “cold call,” in which you’re called on at random to make a decision without time to prepare.

“Learning came to life!” said Sheneka Balogun , chief administration officer and chief of staff at LeMoyne-Owen College, of her experience taking the Credential of Readiness (CORe) program . “The videos from the professors, the interactive cold calls where you were randomly selected to participate, and the case studies that enhanced and often captured the essence of objectives and learning goals were all embedded in each module. This made learning fun, engaging, and student-friendly.”

If you’re considering taking a course that leverages the case study method, here are five benefits you could experience.

5 Benefits of Learning Through Case Studies

1. take new perspectives.

The case method prompts you to consider a scenario from another person’s perspective. To work through the situation and come up with a solution, you must consider their circumstances, limitations, risk tolerance, stakeholders, resources, and potential consequences to assess how to respond.

Taking on new perspectives not only can help you navigate your own challenges but also others’. Putting yourself in someone else’s situation to understand their motivations and needs can go a long way when collaborating with stakeholders.

2. Hone Your Decision-Making Skills

Another skill you can build is the ability to make decisions effectively . The case study method forces you to use limited information to decide how to handle a problem—just like in the real world.

Throughout your career, you’ll need to make difficult decisions with incomplete or imperfect information—and sometimes, you won’t feel qualified to do so. Learning through the case method allows you to practice this skill in a low-stakes environment. When facing a real challenge, you’ll be better prepared to think quickly, collaborate with others, and present and defend your solution.

3. Become More Open-Minded

As you collaborate with peers on responses, it becomes clear that not everyone solves problems the same way. Exposing yourself to various approaches and perspectives can help you become a more open-minded professional.

When you’re part of a diverse group of learners from around the world, your experiences, cultures, and backgrounds contribute to a range of opinions on each case.

On the HBS Online course platform, you’re prompted to view and comment on others’ responses, and discussion is encouraged. This practice of considering others’ perspectives can make you more receptive in your career.

“You’d be surprised at how much you can learn from your peers,” said Ratnaditya Jonnalagadda , a software engineer who took CORe.

In addition to interacting with peers in the course platform, Jonnalagadda was part of the HBS Online Community , where he networked with other professionals and continued discussions sparked by course content.

“You get to understand your peers better, and students share examples of businesses implementing a concept from a module you just learned,” Jonnalagadda said. “It’s a very good way to cement the concepts in one's mind.”

4. Enhance Your Curiosity

One byproduct of taking on different perspectives is that it enables you to picture yourself in various roles, industries, and business functions.

“Each case offers an opportunity for students to see what resonates with them, what excites them, what bores them, which role they could imagine inhabiting in their careers,” says former HBS Dean Nitin Nohria in the Harvard Business Review . “Cases stimulate curiosity about the range of opportunities in the world and the many ways that students can make a difference as leaders.”

Through the case method, you can “try on” roles you may not have considered and feel more prepared to change or advance your career .

5. Build Your Self-Confidence

Finally, learning through the case study method can build your confidence. Each time you assume a business leader’s perspective, aim to solve a new challenge, and express and defend your opinions and decisions to peers, you prepare to do the same in your career.

According to a 2022 City Square Associates survey , 84 percent of HBS Online learners report feeling more confident making business decisions after taking a course.

“Self-confidence is difficult to teach or coach, but the case study method seems to instill it in people,” Nohria says in the Harvard Business Review . “There may well be other ways of learning these meta-skills, such as the repeated experience gained through practice or guidance from a gifted coach. However, under the direction of a masterful teacher, the case method can engage students and help them develop powerful meta-skills like no other form of teaching.”

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How to Experience the Case Study Method

If the case method seems like a good fit for your learning style, experience it for yourself by taking an HBS Online course. Offerings span seven subject areas, including:

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No matter which course or credential program you choose, you’ll examine case studies from real business professionals, work through their challenges alongside peers, and gain valuable insights to apply to your career.

Are you interested in discovering how HBS Online can help advance your career? Explore our course catalog and download our free guide —complete with interactive workbook sections—to determine if online learning is right for you and which course to take.

how can a case study analysis be beneficial in education

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  2. 🌱 How to write a case study analysis example. 6 Steps of a Case

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  3. 🌱 How to write a case study analysis example. 6 Steps of a Case

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  1. Demystifying Study Designs: Exploring the Pros and Cons of Different Study Designs in Research

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  3. Case Study Analysis Ethical Considerations and Cultural Impact 1

  4. The Importance of Case-Based Learning

  5. Early Years Foundation Stage: Exemplification materials

  6. How to Write a Case Study?

COMMENTS

  1. Case Study Analysis as an Effective Teaching Strategy: Perceptions of Undergraduate Nursing Students From a Middle Eastern Country

    Background: Case study analysis is an active, problem-based, student-centered, teacher-facilitated teaching strategy preferred in undergraduate programs as they help the students in developing critical thinking skills.Objective: It determined the effectiveness of case study analysis as an effective teacher-facilitated strategy in an undergraduate nursing program.

  2. What the Case Study Method Really Teaches

    What the Case Study Method Really Teaches. Summary. It's been 100 years since Harvard Business School began using the case study method. Beyond teaching specific subject matter, the case study ...

  3. Making Learning Relevant With Case Studies

    1. Identify a problem to investigate: This should be something accessible and relevant to students' lives. The problem should also be challenging and complex enough to yield multiple solutions with many layers. 2. Give context: Think of this step as a movie preview or book summary.

  4. Using Case Studies to Teach

    Guidelines for using case studies in class. In the most straightforward application, the presentation of the case study establishes a framework for analysis. It is helpful if the statement of the case provides enough information for the students to figure out solutions and then to identify how to apply those solutions in other similar situations.

  5. Case Study in Education Research

    The use of case study as teaching method highlights the ways in which the essential qualities of the case—richness of real-world data and lived experiences—can help learners gain insights into a different world and can bring learning to life. The use of case study in this way has been around for about a hundred years or more.

  6. Full article: Supporting students to engage with case studies: a model

    The findings from all stages allowed a model for case study teaching to be developed, as a guide for educators. The key considerations for educators are that applicable, relevant and real-life case studies effectively support engagement and learning. Furthermore, focused case studies are preferred, with greater depth than breadth.

  7. Case Studies in Instructional Design Education: Students' Communication

    The analysis of case studies is an important constructivist instructional strategy that shows potential for engaging students in asynchronous online discussions. ... For instance, one participant wrote, "VoiceThread was good, but I read much faster than people talk, and it can be difficult to go back and reference something a person said ...

  8. Case Studies

    Case Studies Dee Degner; Amani Gashan; and Natalia Ramirez Casalvolone. Description. Creswell and Poth (2018) define case study as a strategy that involves the study of an issue explored through one or more cases within a bounded system (i.e., a setting or a context), a methodology, a type of design in qualitative research, or an object of study, as well as a product of the inquiry.

  9. Effective learning through the case method: Innovations in Education

    The case method is a widely used education tool that puts students in front and centre of the learning process. In business studies, it brings a piece of the real world into the classroom to facilitate elevated thinking skills among students, develop a deeper understanding of business problems, and arrive at better solutions.

  10. Do Your Students Know How to Analyze a Case—Really?

    Give students an opportunity to practice the case analysis methodology via an ungraded sample case study. Designate groups of five to seven students to discuss the case and the six steps in breakout sessions (in class or via Zoom). Ensure case analyses are weighted heavily as a grading component. We suggest 30-50 percent of the overall course ...

  11. Case studies and practical examples: Supporting teaching and improving

    Learning by example can be invaluable in helping to illuminate where theory (a recipe) meets practice (beating eggs). Given this, it comes as no surprise that educators all over the world have been weaving case studies and scenarios into their pedagogy since time immemorial.

  12. Case Method Teaching and Learning

    Case method 1 teaching is an active form of instruction that focuses on a case and involves students learning by doing 2 3. Cases are real or invented stories 4 that include "an educational message" or recount events, problems, dilemmas, theoretical or conceptual issue that requires analysis and/or decision-making.

  13. Case-Based Learning

    Case-Based Learning. Case-based learning (CBL) is an established approach used across disciplines where students apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios, promoting higher levels of cognition (see Bloom's Taxonomy ). In CBL classrooms, students typically work in groups on case studies, stories involving one or more characters and/or ...

  14. Case Study Analysis as an Effective Teaching

    Background: Case study analysis is an active, problem-based, student-centered, teacher-facilitated teaching strategy pre-ferred in undergraduate programs as they help the students in developing critical thinking skills. Objective: It determined the effectiveness of case study analysis as an effective teacher-facilitated strategy in an undergrad-

  15. Value of Case-Based Learning within STEM Courses: Is It the Method or

    In fact, according to McLean (2016), medicine represented almost 73% of published studies, followed by dentistry at 5%, pharmacy at 5%, and nursing at 3%, while published studies detailing the use of case-based learning in mixed, undergraduate courses represented 1.4% of the articles published globally (p. 41).

  16. PDF A Case for Case Study Research in Education

    The basic concepts of the case study, terminology, processes, and methods should be clear to all involved. Gathering of data using mul-tiple techniques strengthens the case study by providing opportunities for triangulation during the analysis phase of the study. Protocols for the case study research, including time deadlines, formats for

  17. What Is a Case Study?

    Case studies are good for describing, comparing, evaluating and understanding different aspects of a research problem. Table of contents. When to do a case study. Step 1: Select a case. Step 2: Build a theoretical framework. Step 3: Collect your data. Step 4: Describe and analyze the case.

  18. Case Study Methodology of Qualitative Research: Key Attributes and

    A case study is one of the most commonly used methodologies of social research. This article attempts to look into the various dimensions of a case study research strategy, the different epistemological strands which determine the particular case study type and approach adopted in the field, discusses the factors which can enhance the effectiveness of a case study research, and the debate ...

  19. Learning Analytics Education: A Case Study, Review of ...

    The interdisciplinary field of learning analytics emerged in 2008 and quickly grew into a global community of researchers, practitioners, and educators who have made important scientific and applied contributions (Clow, 2013; Siemens, 2013).Journals, conferences, workshops, and informal online outlets such as blogs have served as venues for knowledge exchange, co-creation, and inspiration.

  20. Write a teaching case study

    A discussion-based case study is an education tool to facilitate learning about, and analysis of, a real-world situation. ... students can expect to learn from reading the case. Top tip: Good learning objectives should cover not only basic understanding of the context and issues presented in the case, but also include a few more advanced goals ...

  21. PDF Educational Case Reports: Purpose, Style, and Format

    education, utilize their versions of case reports, often termed case studies. Law students read legal cases, proceedings, judgements, and verdicts. Business journals publish detailed accounts of the success or failure of corporations. The most germane to medical education is the use of case studies in graduate schools of education.

  22. 5 Benefits of the Case Study Method

    Through the case method, you can "try on" roles you may not have considered and feel more prepared to change or advance your career. 5. Build Your Self-Confidence. Finally, learning through the case study method can build your confidence. Each time you assume a business leader's perspective, aim to solve a new challenge, and express and ...