Effective Case Studies — A Win-Win Learning Tool for Academics, Students and Industry

Case method is at the core of management education and the most loved, accepted and widely applied and successful learning and teaching method in management education world over. It redefines the role of faculty in classroom by pushing them away from the central scene and bringing the focus back on students—where students are chief agents and where the module of learning engages them and require them to interact, discuss, cooperate and learn from each other.

This method of education and training sincerely prepares the management students to acquire the skills of critical thinking, logical arguing and reasoning, and persuasive and effective communication. With this understanding, while the academics at b-schools have been writing case-studies to expose their students to the challenges of simulated business situations, it is only when the academic and the corporate world will work in tandem to incorporate ‘real business situations’ in this learning method that it will deliver to its full potential. The jugalbandi will be a win-win step for both the academia and the industry.

Students who join B-schools with an experience of learning by conventional methods, which include class-lectures, home/ off-campus assignments, class-tests and periodical examinations, and viva-voce and interviews, witness a sea change in teachers’ delivery method and a paradigm shift in their own learning when the innovative case method of education is used. Learning by case method has the power to transform the performance of both students as well as educators. On the other hand, Industry professionals often do self-guided research on their products and services and present the stories of their real-world success and failure in form of case studies as a measure of building trust with their stakeholders.

Writing a good case study is a well-learnt and practiced art. While writing a case study, one has to start with the identification of a subject, theme or issue and the players involved. It is also necessary to know the audience to tone up, or down, the story as per the audience’s expertise. Though at times, company policies do come in the way, especially in terms of sharing proprietary information, but it generally doesn’t take much to convince them to cooperate, since it also gives them a visibility.

Typically, a case story could have a traditional start, and through a conflict development in the middle of the case that brings in ambiguity, unresolved issues and complexity allowing layers of analyses, writers can finally conclude the story by drawing the readers’ attention back to the issues referred earlier. Use of some data and statistics in the story can often project the magnanimity of the conflict and challenges. Bringing in some visual content can also spice up the readers’ interest. Including some statements and quotes makes the case story more tangible and credible and readers can identify with the situation much better.

Using small and comprehensible sentences and small paragraphs with meaningful headings makes a case study easy to read and comprehend. One should avoid technical terms, jargons and acronyms as they often obstruct a smooth reading. Finally, the draft should be proofread carefully. And not to forget that in today’s digital age, presence of search-engine-friendly keywords in the case study will help in its better listing in the online searches.

Once the case writing is concluded,a case teaching note may be attempted; the note normally includes a summary of the case, statement of learning objectives and suggested assignment and discussion questions followed by case analysis and possible alternatives, and comments on the suggested teaching method.

Gerry Yemen[1] considers business cases as ‘living and breathing documents’ that need constant revision and improvements, as these are used in classrooms; this requires a long-term relationship between the author, case protagonists and cases.

Benefits from case method include effective reading and analytical class preparation, learning from each other through cohesive participation and debate, art of opening the discussion, taking a stand and defending that with the support of valid arguments, and, finally, effective communication, especially the art of persuasion in difficult situations.

When the students explore the alternatives to solve the problems highlighted in a case, they discover a new side of their personality. Case method, therefore, totally transforms the students and prepares them to take on the challenges in the real professional world. This completes the loop, with gains coming back to the industry in terms of a more prepared potential leader manager. In fact, at the recently-concluded International Case Conference, Katastasi, organized at the Fortune Institute of International Business (FIIB), New Delhi, a former IIM-A Professor I. M. Pandey (currently the Director-General of Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, Delhi) confirmed the same when he said that the case method enhances the employability of management graduates by thoroughly working on their analytical skills, reasoning ability, team behavior and communication skills from the management decision making perspective. Therefore, the institutions that rely on, and employ, case education as the core component of their teaching methodology produce highly employable students.

[1] Director, Darden Case Writing Research Group at University of Virginia, USA.