1. Formats of Case Studies
  2. Case Studies: How To
  3. Case Studies: Assessment
  4. Case Studies: Challenges
  5. Case Studies: Examples
  6. Case Studies: Resources

CASE STUDIES – Project/Problem-based learning

The use of case studies is based on the teaching approach of Problem-Based Learning (PBL), which was originally used at the Harvard Business School and at the Medical school at McMaster University in the mid-1970s. According to Barrows and Tablyn (1980), PBL “is the learning that results from the process of working toward the understanding or resolution of a problem”. It has been argued that the use of case studies promotes active learning and the structure is more similar to project-based learning than it is to problem-based learning. There are certain differences between project and problem-based learning:

Project-based Learning Problem-based Learning
Task focused learning; the instructor sets up an activity. The instructors provides the problem and students decide how and what they will learn.
Supervision by the instructor. Facilitation by the instructor.
Students are expected to come up with a solution and solve the problem. Students focus on managing the problem and not so much on its solution.
Students are expected to draw resources from previous lectures or instructor may provide supporting materials. The instructor may not provide lectures and the students are expected to identify the knowledge and materials that are necessary in order to address the problem.

It seems, though, that in many case studies used in various disciplines, there is an overlap between these two teaching approaches.

The case study method is a form of PBL and is based on a narrative of realistic issues that may derive from actual events that took place, or were developed with the purpose to simulate occurrences in everyday life. Cases are used to help students engage in discussion, apply knowledge and skills in solving problematic issues, and to address issues from various perspectives.

Case method learning is often successful because:

  • Adult learners find it more appealing when what they learn applies immediately to practical situations and when they are provided with the chance to activate their prior knowledge in order to address an issue
  • It promotes critical thinking and increases learner’s confidence in addressing an issue successfully
  • It encourages the learner to assume an active role in constructing knowledge and understanding.
  • The learners are challenged to set priorities in locating and managing information, they use scientific inquiry methods and explore higher level concepts and how these are applied into practice.
  • Case studies encourage collaborative learning, which is a widely supported method in knowledge formation

 There are various instructional objectives that could be addressed through the use of case studies:

  • To pre-assess the students’ knowledge and understanding
  • As a basis for either a regular lab session or a specific lab technology
  • To set the context for students to engage in research papers
  • To provide opportunities for students to explore issues from multiple perspectives
  • To help students learn through modelling and simulation process
  • To provide opportunities for students to explore historical events
  • To engage students in the data interpretation process
  • As an introduction to experimental design
  • To help students get prepared for a field trip
  • To equip students with knowledge and skills before practicum sessions

Some guiding questions that may help students to analyze cases are:

  • What is the issue that this case investigates? What is the problem to be addressed?
  • What are some of the questions you may have in relation to the issue?
  • What are some of the strategies to be used to solve the issue?
  • What information is necessary for you to acquire? What are some of the resources and materials that you need?
  • How will you solve the issue?
  • How will you evaluate the solution that you propose?

There are a variety of different formats of case studies that can be used in the classroom context (e.g., extensive case studies, descriptive/narrative cases, mini cases, etc.), which are all used with the purpose of facilitating knowledge acquisition. Click here to see details about different formats of case studies.

Formats of Case Studies

Case Studies: How To

Case Studies: Assessment

Case Studies: Challenges

Case Studies: Examples

Case Studies: Resources