Learning by Experience: Fads in Management Education Come and Go-But the 'Case Study' Approach to Teaching Appears to Be a More Durable Technique Than Most

Article excerpt

Latest figures from the European Case Clearing House (ECCH)**--a non-profit organisation supported by around 350 institutional members, most of them European business schools--show that fees paid by users of the 2000-2500 most 'active' cases reached a record [pounds sterling]1.5m last year.

Harvard Business School--where case writing was pioneered and with which case writing is almost synonymous--still produces roughly 60 to 70 new ones each month while the Richard Ivey School of Business (Western Ontario) and the Darden School (Virginia) are other North American stalwarts. In Europe, Insead, IMD, IESE and the Helsinki School of Economics (a member of the Community of European Management Schools) all fund case writing in a formal way and produce a steady trickle of new studies. Elsewhere, cases are written by individuals in their own time or with money provided by corporate sponsors.

In some ways the robustness of the case study, which is generally written with a clear pedagogical objective and which records the real-life issues faced by managers with surrounding facts, opinions and prejudices, is surprising. E-learning has introduced new techniques and many recent entrants to the executive education market have tried to make their mark by challenging the traditional ways of 'chalk and talk'. Critics have argued that 'static' cases have limited relevance in a fast moving world and have repeatedly--if prematurely--predicted their demise.

The popularity of cases can also be measured by the fact that they feature prominently in the courses of most of the world's top business schools. That said, their durability is not guaranteed: some of the new breed of B-School faculty lack case experience because they come to business school teaching without having had any personal exposure to cases, e.g. via economics or similar degrees, some of the best teachers/authors are reaching retirement, and the emphasis in many universities (notably in the UK) is increasingly on research rather than teaching.

Case studies are not formally peer-reviewed. They do not appear in those journals where professors and other business school academics are required to have their work published if they wish to advance their careers. And they can have a limited shelf life in disciplines like marketing and strategy where thinking and new fashions can change quite quickly.

ECCH is dedicated to the development and promotion of the case method, organising workshops and seminars both for budding case authors and for teachers, either unfamiliar with the case approach or whose skills need polishing. ECCH always insists that cases accepted for publication must have been tried and tested in a learning environment and more recently has been eager to improve the standard of accompanying teaching notes. …