The Case Study Method


Bindu K. Nambiar - Unnithan
SCMS School of Management

A case is usually a description of an actual situation, commonly involving a decision, a challenge, an opportunity, a problem or an issue faced by a person or persons in an organization. There is no universally accepted definition for a case study, and the case method means different things to different people. Consequently, all case studies are not structured similarly, and variations abound in terms of style, structure and approach. An important point to be emphasized here is that a case is not a problem. A problem usually has a unique, correct solution. On the other hand, a decision-maker faced with the situation described in a case can choose between several alternative courses of action, and each of these alternatives may plausibly be supported by logical argument.

Case studies in the classroom:

Unlike lecture-based teaching, the case method requires intensive preparation by the students, before each class. If a case has been assigned for discussion in the class, the student must prepare carefully and thoroughly for the case discussion. Case studies are usually discussed in class, in a large group. However, sometimes, instructors may require individuals or groups of students to provide a written analysis of a case study, or make an oral presentation on the case study in the classroom.

The case study method usually involves three stages: individual preparation, small group discussion, and large group or class discussion. While both the instructor and the student start with the same information, their roles are clearly different in each of these stages, as shown in Table 1.

Broadly speaking the case analysis process could consist of following stages:

1. Gaining familiarity with the case situation (critical case facts, persons, activities, contexts).
2. Recognizing the symptoms (what are the things that are not as expected, or as they should be?).
3. Identifying goals/objectives.
4. Conducting the analysis.
5. Making the diagnosis (identifying problems, i.e., discrepancies between goals and performance, prioritizing problems etc.)
6. Preparing the action plan (identifying feasible action alternatives, selecting a course of action, implementation planning, and plan for monitoring implementation).

Case Discussions in the Classroom:

A classroom case discussion is usually guided by the instructor. Students are expected to participate in the discussion and present their views. In some cases, the instructor may adopt a particular view, and challenge the students to respond. During the discussion, while a student presents his point of view, others may question or challenge him. Case instructors usually encourage innovative ways of looking at and analyzing problems, and arriving at possible alternatives.

The interaction among students, and between the students and the instructor, must take place in a constructive and positive manner. Such interactions help to improve the analytical, communication, and interpersonal skills of the students.

Students must be careful that the contributions they make to the discussion are relevant, and based on a sound analysis of the information presented in the case. Students can also refer to the notes they have prepared during the course of their preparation for the case discussion.

The instructor may ask questions to the class at random about the case study itself or about the views put forward by an individual student. If a student has some new insights about the issues at hand, she is usually encouraged to share them with the class.

Students must respond when the instructor asks some pertinent questions. The importance of preparing beforehand cannot be emphasized enough a student will be able to participate meaningfully in the case discussion only if he is knowledgeable about the facts of the case, and has done a systematic case analysis. A case discussion may end with the instructor (or a student) summarizing the key learning points (or 'takeaways') of the session.

Student performance in case discussions is usually evaluated, and is a significant factor in assessing overall performance in the course. The extent of participation is never the sole criterion in the evaluation the quality of the participation is an equally (or more) important criterion.


1.'Using Cases in Higher Education: A Guide for Faculty and Administrators' by James P. Honan, Cheryl Sternman Rule Contributor James P. Honan ,Published by Wiley_Default, 2002.

2. 'Research Methods in Education' by Louis Cohen, Lawrence Manion, Keith Morrison Contributor Keith Morrison Published by Routledge, 2000.

Bindu K. Nambiar - Unnithan
SCMS School of Management

Source: E-mail October 18, 2008


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