Sometime about 400,000 years ago, humans learned to fully control fire. This extended the day and allowed people to unleash their imaginations and tell stories, rather than merely focus on mundane topics. Whether we realise it or not, we seek stories and real-world examples to help us learn every day – from watching a video about baking a chocolate cake, to watching a personal trainer demonstrate the correct way to do a plank. Learning by example can be invaluable in helping to illuminate where theory (a recipe) meets practice (beating eggs). Given this, it comes as no surprise that educators all over the world have been weaving case studies and scenarios into their pedagogy since time immemorial.

Case studies can help students gain a more practical perspective on what they’re learning, without needing to leave the four walls of a classroom. Not only does this give them perspective, it also enables them to develop problem-solving and critical-thinking skills as they work through a problem they could encounter in their life beyond study.

The University of NSW describes case studies as the ‘stories or scenarios, often in narrative form, created and used as a tool for analysis and discussion’ and that ‘cases are often based on actual events, which adds a sense of urgency or reality’.

Case studies can come in a range of formats

Traditionally, case studies have been written in long-form, but with the new age of digital technologies, the way case studies are used in education has been changing. We now have access to modernised cases through the likes of video, podcasts, animations and more!

Examples of the formats case studies can come in:

• Written
• Video
• Podcast
• Infographic
• Audio file
• Animation

Case studies are beneficial for learning and skills development

There are numerous reasons to incorporate case studies into your course. And If you’ve ever used cases or scenarios in your teaching, it’s likely you appreciate the debate and ideas that stem from student discussions.

A study published in 2015 on student’s studying science investigated the benefits of learning through reading or class discussion versus learning through case studies. The evidence suggested that student results and performance were higher for the topic that was taught through case studies. Also, when looking at student perceived gains, students felt like they learnt more from the case studies.

It’s clear that this learning tool provides many benefits to students. A report on case study method teaching shows that learning through case studies give students the opportunity to:

  • ‘Do’ the work, engage in the case and apply the concepts, techniques and methods of that discipline
  • Develop tactical knowledge and skills
  • Engage with a range of evidence and information, which improves their ability to apply theories, vocabularies and methods
  • Encounter new situations and work through the complexities

And they help students develop their skills in:

  • Problem solving
  • Using analytical tools, (depending on the case, quantitative and/or qualitative)
  • Decision-making in complex situations
  • Coping with ambiguities

Considerations when choosing a case study

It is important to carefully select case studies that will support learning and bring the concept to life. Some of the key elements of a useful case study include currency, relevance and depth.

1. Use a current scenario

When it comes to case studies currency is important. Case studies should be current enough that the information could still be applicable in present or future situations.

2. Relevance to the topic and students

It may seem obvious, but the case study should be both relevant to the course and students. If the case is relevant to the course, it will help students draw connections between what they’re learning and the case itself. Students will also be far more engaged if the topic is relevant to them and they can see themselves in that scenario.

3. Enough depth for analysis

The case should include enough information to be a great starting point for analysis. There should be enough information for the students to figure out solutions and then to identify how to apply those solutions in other similar situations.

It is clear case studies are a very valuable tool for teaching and learning

That’s why we make them a pivotal part of relevant Wiley titles, including our new Mental Health Care 4th Edition, coming in soon 2020, for use in the 2021 university year.

Case studies have long been used in the study of medicine and nursing. Therefore this new edition packed full of case studies in a range of formats, and we’ve ensured they’re relevant examples with an Australian context.

Here are the different ways you can access cases in the new Mental Health Care 4th Edition: