Learning with cases is exhilarating, inspiring and fun. No wonder so many case teachers hear from students years after graduation who still remember the cases and case method sessions that provided the philosophical, theoretical and practical bedrock for their subsequent management careers.
The case method has its roots in the ancient techniques of Socratic dialogue or questioning, as well as Aristotelian logic and the method of argument and counter-argument. Today, the case method remains an irreplaceable cornerstone of management education in business schools across the globe.
What is a case?
Cases describe real-life business situations usually involving a tricky challenge or decision being faced by the case protagonist. Class participants can 'step into the shoes' of the protagonist to discuss possible solutions and analyse the pros and cons of various approaches to the problem.
Traditionally, cases are written documents and can be anything from a single page to dozens of pages plus supplementary materials. However, cases can take many forms including online games, fully immersive online worlds, and various digital formats.
Learning vital skills
Within the context of real-life decision-making students learn business and management theory while at the same time developing a wide range of vital skills. These include:
- challenging assumptions
- overcoming prejudices
- testing theories
- debating solutions
- developing work and life skills
- enhancing employability.
How does it work?
No two case sessions are exactly the same, which is part of what makes the case method so exciting. You will be expected to read the case before the session and make yourself familiar with it. Your instructor may provide some assignment questions to focus your preparation. The better you prepare, the more you will be able to contribute in class. A great discussion can be an unforgettable experience so make sure you’re part of it.
Along with a plenary discussion case sessions can also involve activities such as group work, role play and simulations.
A word of warning: you will often find that a case does not have a single neat solution. This is an accurate reflection of life in the world of business where problems and challenges rarely have an easy answer.
What participants say…
Here are some typical reactions from case classroom participants:
"The case method prepares you to hold your own while engaging with your peers. You learn how to think and speak quickly. More important: you learn how to listen and absorb deeply. My favourite classes are the ones where I would change my mind two or three times during the course of the debate. You don’t get challenged like this in a lecture, period."
Gavin Ellman, Harvard Business School MBA participant
"The invaluable part is eliciting the emotion that goes hand in hand with a difficult decision, given a host of uncertainties and competing issues. It really becomes fun, seeing how we handle that 'no man’s land' where you get to see how different people approach a given situation."
Steven Fouskarinis, IESE Global Executive MBA participant
"Cases are an incredible way to gain experience and see different approaches to solve specific situations. It enriches oneself with real life situations."
Xavier Cornella, IESE Global Executive MBA participant
"In my opinion the case method has so many benefits over the traditional book-based method of teaching business. I can’t possibly summarise all of them but a few of the most important for me are:
- It’s more fun! Even as an accountant I find some of the more detailed parts of finance a little dull, but framing the topic as a case brings the subject to life.
- It brings business back to reality. Having read more than my fair share of management books prior to London Business School, ‘business’ had started to seem like quite an abstract, academic subject. The case method rapidly brings you back down to earth, reminding you that business involves real people being forced to make enormously important decisions often based on incomplete and/or poor quality information.
- Cases allow you to benefit from the experience of others.
- You practise articulating arguments clearly and concisely."
Allen, London Business School MBA participant
We provide a range of services and support for students learning with cases. The sections below will point you in the right direction, but please do get in touch if you need any further help.