Core Principles

All professional schools face the same difficult challenge: how to prepare students for the world of practice. Time in the classroom must somehow translate directly into real-world activity: how to diagnose, decide, and act. ” — David Garvin, "Making the Case"

The case method is a form of instructor-guided, discussion-based learning. It introduces complex and often ambiguous real-world scenarios into the classroom, typically through a case study with a protagonist facing an important decision. The case method represents a shift from the traditional, instructor-centered model of education to a participant-centered one in which students play a lead role in their own and each other's learning. Case method instructors use questions, dialogue, debate, and the application of analytical tools and frameworks to engage students in a challenging, interactive learning environment. Not only does this approach raise the likelihood of greater retention—it also allows for learning that goes beyond the transfer of knowledge to include the development of analytical, decision-making, and communication skills, and the cultivation of self-awareness, judgment, and the capacity to lead. At its best, the case method enables students to develop what Harvard Business School Professor Tom Piper calls "the courage to act under uncertainty."

The role of the case method instructor is captured by the Latin verb "educare"-to lead out. A good discussion leader does not seek to cover material in the classroom, but instead to guide students toward the discovery of critical insights and uncovering of broader lessons through thoughtful questioning, listening, and responding. The case method instructor must be well-prepared for both the content associated with each class session and the process for guiding the participant-centered learning experience.

Students act as co-creators of the learning process in the case method. They are responsible for preparing the case in advance, first individually, and then often in small study groups. During the class session, students are expected to participate as contributors and as listeners to help advance their own learning and that of their classmates. Ideally, learning should continue after class as students reflect on the discussion and apply insights and lessons in the broader context of their academic, professional, and personal lives.