It is said that 'Experience is the best teacher'. However, this experience doesn't necessarily have to be undergone personally, but can be learnt through others as well. In a classroom, while textbooks and reference material serves the purpose of teaching concepts, definition and methods, case study trains you with the skill required to do the job. As a result, most higher education institutes swear by using this technique. Essentially, a case study is an analysis of an organisation, an event, a person, or a series of decisions resulting in a success or failure. If used correctly, it can be a very powerful teaching tool.
"I believe students benefit immensely from working through case studies if they use the "experience" and apply the lessons learnt," says Chris Kinsville-Heyne, professor of leadership and strategy, Hult International Business School.
Professors at Hult are very fortunate in this respect as many of them are adjunct professors, who run their own consultancies or businesses on a day-to-day basis, and are able to bring current working practices into the lecture room. "For my courses, International Negotiations, and Crisis Communications and Management, I like to use case studies to highlight certain points and practices.
This can be to reinforce a particular strategy or possibly to expose weaknesses in a code of practice," adds Kinsville-Heyne. Many students are inductive learners who learn better from examples than from logical development. So it becomes a very effective classroom technique. A major advantage of teaching with case studies is that the students are actively engaged in identifying the principles and theories by abstracting them from the examples.
Speaking on the importance of using this method in class room, Rangana maitra, convenor, International Case Study Conference, 2015, says, "Class becomes interactive while faculty member plays the role of a facilitator. They become aware of real life challenges and incidents experienced by people working in corporate world. Case studies help students to explore how what they have learned applies to real world situations."
Keeping this in mind, IES Management College and Research Centre, Mumbai is also organising a Two-day International Case Study Conference in February 2015. It intends to provide a platform for case writers, academicians and industry experts to present case studies in the area of business and management. The aim is to highlight real life challenges and incidents experienced by people working in the corporate world.
At IES, classroom learning is enriched through case studies of Harvard Business School, Richard IVY Business School and ICFAI Business School. Hult on the other hand looks at current events or practices for analysis, which, personally, could be anything. Kinsville-Heyne's favourite case study is the first two hours and 36 mins of the London Bombings, and the communication that took place during that time. "It has everything I require in order to explain the confusion that dominates everything during the early stages of a crisis; lack of clarity, contradictory messages, several agencies wanting to say something, social media, human reactions, everything," he states.
As education institutes give a thumbs up to case study learning method, how do the corporate view this phenonmenon? Shalini Pillay, head, people, performance and culture, KPMG, India, opines, "Case studies allow students to think about the application of theoretical concepts in actual business scenarios. Dealing with business scenarios helps them bridge the gap between theory and reality. This is a critical aspect of the way we work in consulting."
In today’s dynamic business environment, employees are expected to not only be the subject matter experts but also have the experience and skills to translate that expertise into a solution, which will work for the client. "A case study based curriculum is known to work for the development of key skills such as problem solving, decision making, analytical abilities – quantitative and/ or qualitative, coping with ambiguities, individual study, time management, presentation skills , group working and communication," says Pillay.
KPMG is putting together a competition called the KPMG International Case Competition (KICC). "It is a competition which brings this form of learning to the B-school student community in the form of an exciting and rewarding global challenge. The students who make an impact during the competition have the opportunity to become a part of KPMG," explains Pillay. Another corporate showing interest in case studies is Cairn India, one of the largest oil and gas exploration and production companies in the country. As a part of the preliminary round of their competition ‘Amazing Champions of Energy (ACE)’, a case study competition on the theme ‘Oil and Gas policy Framework in India’ was conducted at National Institute of Industrial Engineering (NITIE).
The most impactful aspect of case study based learning is that it enables the person to not only apply his knowledge and experience, but also conduct research and analyse the problem, before arriving at a recommendation. "As long as the recommendations are realistic and are supported with logic and analysis, there are no right or wrong answers," signs off Pillay.