What is the Case Method?

case-studiesOne of the most popular methods for teaching management skills, the Case Method, has recently come under fire. Questions have arisen concerning the effectiveness of the method in light of advances and volatility in the global business world. Still, many of the giants in management education use this teaching method enthusiastically.

What is the Case Method?

The case method is a way of teaching graduate courses that presents real-world industry problems to students, expecting them—with the aid and guidance of an instructor—to analyze the situation and arrive at several possible solutions. According to an article in Forbes Magazine, students in the exercises do 85% of the talking. This teaching method is most closely connected with Harvard Business School where the program originated. The school is, perhaps, its biggest proponent. Students are given the problem in advance and allowed to read it and think about the issues it presents. They then meet with a small team to further prepare before class discussion.

What is the Controversy?

First, say the critics, students compete for attention because their grades are based on classroom participation. That means their observations may be hasty and made without enough thought. The method often presents 500 problems over a 60 week period, which comes out to eight per week. It is difficult to adequately prepare for that course load. The second criticism is that students must have a lot of work experience to make their observations viable. Many students come into graduate school directly after graduating with an undergraduate degree and have little to no work experience. Also, the facts presented in the cases are limited, as they must be. That means the analysis and conclusions may not be accurate because they are made without complete knowledge of the issues. Another point raised against the teaching method is that there are no right or wrong answers and so it is not valuable for quantitative courses. Last, critics say that the fast-morphing global nature of commerce may outdate the problems before they are presented.

How Do Proponents Answer?

The Case Centre is an organization that researches the method and collects problems from businesses for analysis and inclusion in the program. According to this organization, the volatility of business is addressed by adding technology to the courses so that the cases can be addressed in real time environments. Student reviews of this teaching method add that it provokes emotions which would be present in actual situations, and which text books do not. It also helps students understand that not everything is “black and white” and, with discussion among diverse participants from different countries, backgrounds and experience, students learn about how cultural issues impact solutions.

Many schools have started integrating lectures with the program, trying to achieve a balance. In addition, finance and other related courses are taught using textbooks. Management schools, like the one at Harvard, are “sticking to their guns” however and believe their method is the best way of teaching graduate classes. Although the debate continues, schools are looking for new ways to incorporate additional teaching methods into their case method classes. Schools are unwilling to shelve the method entirely because of its proven effectiveness and popularity with students. The Case Method is likely to be a major player in the world of business education for years to come.