The Case Method at the Harvard Business School: Papers by Present and Past Members of the Faculty and Staff

By Malcolm P. McNair | Go to book overview
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WHO SHOULD STUDY UNDER THE CASE METHOD?

Some students derive great benefit from case method study, while others adjust themselves to it poorly or not at all. The basic equipment which the case method student should possess is not dissimilar to that needed by the lecture student. They both must be intelligent, curious, industrious, and retentive and must have an acceptable ethical code. But the student who would prosper under the case method must have other endowments, which are not requisite to success under the lecture system of instruction. He must be capable of happy adjustment to a truly democratic process, and he must possess a tough yet flexible mind. Without these two qualities he misses much that the case method offers, and is liable to suffer mental anguish to no purpose. Under the lecture method of instruction, neither the acceptance of truly democratic methods nor a tough and flexible mind is requisite. On the contrary, a facile memory and a willingness to accept authority are often the winning factors when the grades are distributed to a lecture class.

The mind that can adjust easily to a democratic learning process has a number of distinguishing qualities, not the least of which is willingness to accept risk. The risk element is present in several forms under the case method, and the student who is to profit from case instruction must be prepared to take these chances.

By placing its emphasis on free discussion of the case material in class, instead of on authoritative exposition of the material by the instructor, the case method involves the student in the risk of uncertain progress. At no time during the learning process can he look into his mirror and tell himself with certainty, "I know this and this, but I haven't yet learned this. I have progressed thus far from yesterday and so far from a month ago." This risk of uncertain progress appears to loom considerably larger under the democracy of the case method than under the authority of the lecture method.

In undertaking any formal educational process, the student is forgoing the experience, income, and accompanying social advantage which he might acquire if he were working. But under the case method the student must be willing to accept this risk plus that of his uncertain progress. If he cannot readily condition himself to accept this double risk, he either wastes his time in fruitless worry or leaves school.

The student under the case method must develop the art of floundering gracefully in this uncertainty. He must ultimately come to enjoy or at least to live at truce with uncertainty, or the case method

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