Learning is a continuous process. People learn step by step, from known to unknown and simple to complex. From a research perspective, the current learning theory lays emphasizes on the importance of using the learning process to determine the architecture of courses. It also demonstrates that there are four main phases in the learning cycle: Review, Learning, Application and Adaptation. Application or the third phase, demonstrates how to apply the new knowledge and skills. This is where case studies, scenarios, and activities play an important role.
Case studies are a form of problem-based learning. The idea of using case study, as an effective teaching method, originated in Harvard Business School. Edwin Gay, first Dean of HBS, called it the “problem method” and foresaw its value in creating leaders, able to adjust as necessary, to ever-changing business climates. (Source, HBS). Case Studies are commonly used in traditional education, be it in a medical school or a law school, we find extensive use of case studies.
Now in practice, we often confuse these two terms: case study and the case method. The terms are used interchangeably, but they actually are not the same thing.
A case study is a story about a situation or event (usually real), that contains information about the problem; it also deals with how the event was addressed, and the results of the actions taken to solve the problem. A case study makes the learner think and critically analyze the information presented and then, take decision leading to a possible solution, or recommendation. Case study is a research method that excels in bringing an understanding of a complex issue.
A case method, on the other hand, also presents a situation (not necessarily real), but the learners are not told “what was done”, and neither does it provide any solutions at all. The learners should think of possible solutions that fit the cases. It is more involving, and a pro-active problem solving method. A case method is more of teaching method.
However, in an e-Learning course, case studies are a great way to keep the learners engaged or involved in an interactive exchange and resolve problems by thinking creatively. It greatly improves the learning experience.
For example, in online medical cases, the learner is presented with a patient complaint. The learner can inquire patient’s background information. He can also get feedback on his diagnosis method. A great resemblance of the real world situations, keep the learner motivated, he feels that he is truly preparing to confront his future challenges.
How can you ensure maximum value from case studies in an e-Learning course?
- For an e-Learning course, case studies come handy when it comes to understanding a specific skill or concept. It is not used for memorizing facts and details.
- Case studies usually have lots of details. Collect and explore the relevant facts. In a good case study, there are many more facts than what you actually need, for your analysis.
Adults learn differently from children. They learn new skills because they want to. Case studies are a good way to enhance their learning. It gives learners an opportunity to solve a problem; and they can solve it from their existing knowledge. There are no u consequences for getting it “wrong”. Case studies give learners a much better understanding, and to test their own level of preparation.
If as an instructional designer to design elearning, you have not used cases do take time to consider using them, you will be glad you did.