Is teaching the case method online ever possible?
When I ask experienced online educators about online learning, their strongest recommendation is that instructors move away from selecting and packaging information for students, and allow them to build knowledge through digital networks both within and outside their course. The biggest challenge, they say, is finding the best ways to do this so that learners achieve the knowledge and skills they need.
It seems to me that this is a pretty convincing description of the case method. Yes, there is a (mostly) written, formal teaching case, but the case (and Teaching Note) are the stimulus for class discussion. I think this could be described as a form of networked, collaborative or social learning that includes learning inputs from inside and outside the course; academic guidance, course materials, and student experience, knowledge and personal networks of support and advice.
This suggests to me that the case method is ideally suited to online learning. It should, in fact, thrive in online environments. Yet there remains a stubborn resistance to the idea of wholeheartedly committing to using the case method online. This threatens the continuing relevance of the case method in a rapidly growing segment of management education. If the case method is to avoid becoming stranded, we need to develop approaches to using it online that are confident and embracing of the technology rather than tentative half-steps.
Online learning is not going to go away. It is here to stay and is growing rapidly. We have left behind concepts like “new technology”. New technology is now simply no more than the new norm.
So how do we find a way forward?
Earlier this year I took part in a conference session on teaching online. Each participant was asked to join a table discussion on a topic of personal interest. I joined a table group focusing on the case method.
I think it is fair to say that the attitudes expressed in that opening exchange as to whether the case method could ever be used effectively online ranged from discomfort and doubt to confidence and conviction. It was obvious that the range of responses reflected the participants’ own relative experience or inexperience in teaching online generally, and the degree to which they were attempting simply to do online what they did face-to-face, rather than any limitations inherent in the online environment.
Given the fast expansion of online, the greatest challenge for the case method lies in finding approaches that capture its essence rather than seek to mimic the classroom experience.
The Case Centre will continue to support new approaches to the case method, both face-to-face and online, by sharing the experience of our community and promoting the case method as a diverse and living methodology.