Case Studies for eLearning: How and when they work best

Case studies in education are an age old teaching strategy. They provide meaningful, content-related experiences through which learners can discover and imagine abstract principles in real world settings. In this article, we talk about effective approaches to using case studies in eLearning environments.

Case studies make excellent reading and comprehension activities, while simultaneously serving as information providing tools. These are discovery activities for learners that focus your learners’ analytical and problem-solving skills on the scenario presented in the case study. They are also a great way to demonstrate a real incident or an event that conveys a crucial lesson for best practices. Through this, learners connect intimately and directly with the industry they are training for. In a nutshell, case studies are their first line of contact with the future work environment.

Moreover, case studies make great content for an eLearning interface: think about an eLearning screen with tabs like “About”, “Synopsis”, “Events”, “References”, “Assignment”. Each page includes text and multimedia for learners to tinker and play with. The idea is to display the case in a fun and explorative fashion. This is as opposed to a simple pdf file with lines and lines of text that becomes harder to read with each page!

The goal of a case study is to relay relevant learning materials and then ask questions based on the reading. In eLearning, case studies are richer. The material has more variety, as it is linked from the current resources available on the Internet.

The eLearning medium also provides an interactive environment for case studies with plenty of room for collaboration and online discussion. A complex case study can be simplified using eLearning tools and also become more engaging than the traditional case study delivery method.

The content of your case study could even be retrieved, with the appropriate citations, from a local newspaper. Has there been an article or a news story on some interesting business or an incident? Is it related to your learning objective? Use it as a case study.

Case studies are great for teaching complex knowledge that cannot be taught by using simple formulas. They are especially good for teaching judgement skills and decision making skills required when dealing with real-world dilemmas. They can also be presented in multiple formats. For example, in an instructor-led case study, the case is explained by the instructor and so are the assignments related to it.

Virtual field trips are also great examples of eLearning case studies. Mini-case studies, or vignettes, presented in the beginning of the chapters also serve as great classroom-to-outside-world connection tools. Some case studies can be utilized to develop “Reaction Papers”, in which learners create a summary and reaction to the events they read in the case study.

Simple Strategies to Provide Case Studies

So what are the best practices for case studies? In an eLearning environment, case studies are a rich mixture of multimedia. In the following cases, using a scenario-based approach will work well:

1. When you can create a simulation of an actual system or have extensive video content on it. Find documentaries related to the content, in the form of YouTube videos. Additionally, create an interactive screen with buttons and dialogues between actors to simulate a scene in the case study.

2. Explain charts, diagrams and other technical and business graphics using case studies.

3. Give some life to your numerical data on spreadsheets by narrating a story in the form of a case study.

4. When explaining blueprints, drawings and specifications of products and systems.

5. When demonstrating conventional business documents such as reports, contracts, instruction manuals, email messages, memos and letters.

When using case studies in your eLearning, provide prompts to learners to prepare them that they are about to read a real case. Provide specific guidance and facts to understand the case better. Explain how the case relates to the learning objective or the topic in the eLearning course. What are the important features of the case? What should the learners focus on? Provide sufficient clues on where to start the examination of the case. Also, provide questions in the end of the case to help with brainstorming and critical thinking.

Using case studies is an excellent teaching strategy. Case studies are good for teaching complex knowledge. They promote observing and reflecting on new knowledge and experiences.

Try to use case studies that are based on the local work context of your learners. Learners should be able to relate to the experiences narrated in the case. For your global learners, try to include case studies based on international businesses.

Case studies are also recommended for teaching judgement skills necessary to deal with complex and contradictory situations common in the real world setting.

If you are looking for a way to connect your eLearning course to the outside world, simply integrate a case study.

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