A case is presented to students or selected by the students, leading them to a correct response or solution given the situation or an experiential knowing of the given case. The activity can also lead to an understanding of the ramifications of their decisions. The case itself can be structured or unstructured. In case-based instruction, the learning can involve recording and synthesizing information on a case, indexing it to other cases, and/or adapting a solution to the given case. The product can either be a student study of a new case or a student analysis of pre-existing case studies towards a particular goal.

Appropriate Content Areas

Initially common in law, business, engineering, teacher, and medical education, it can be modified to most curriculum.

Goals & Objectives

Allow the application of theoretical concepts. Develop group work and problem solving abilities. Information gathering and analysis. Time management. Presentation skills. Develop higher order decision making skills.

During and after performing the Case Study activity, students will…

  • Assess the appropriate action in the given situation,
  • Generalize patterns within cases,
  • Develop a theory concerning the cause of a given case,
  • Identify the components of a given case,
  • Summarize a case,
  • Categorize a case within a given system,

…as determined by successfully attending to 80% of rubric items.


Students will need access to the case to be studied. They will also need any prior knowledge needed to synthesize case items.

Materials and Resources

The instructor will provide any necessary details of the case(s) and the assignment description.

Guiding Questions for this Lesson

The guiding question will depend on the purpose of the case-based instruction as shown under goals and objectives above. As an example: How well can the student(s) adapt to the given situation and provide a plausible solution, circumvention, explanation, or resolution?

Lesson Outline and Procedure

Two outlines are presented here. The first is for the development of a new case study. The second is for the use of pre-existing case-based instruction.

Case Study

  1. The instructor usually begins with an overview of the case study method and how it is carried out. In an advanced class that specifically plans to use this as a major course project, this instruction may last several weeks to a course specifically on case study and nothing else.
  2. At some point, the students are presented the case study project. Often, this would be early in the term. This will include any specific requirements for the assignment such as length, specific questions that must be addressed, participant versus non-participant studies, etc. The case study itself can be limited by issues on which it should focus, a demographic determinant, a historical time frame, or any number of instructor determined factors. The instructor can select or allow student self-selection of a study topic. Usually, the student selection should be verified by the instructor to insure that the student understands what a valid case is.
  3. The students then conduct the necessary observation and/or analysis of their cases. In some cases, approval an internal review board may be required.
  4. The students then write a report of their case addressing assignment requirements.
  5. The final studies may be opened to peer review following instructor analysis to make sure that the case study is appropriate for the wider student audience.

Case-Based Instruction

  1. The instructor presents a given case to the students.
  2. The instructor guides students to focus on important aspects of the case, recall relative cases already discussed in the class or wider media, and reach conclusions that address learning objectives.
  3. The assessment may be as simple as the discussion participation to a paper outlining key points from a given unit of cases presented in class.

Teaching Strategies

  • Usually done individually in an online class, it can also be done as a group assignment, which can be made more effective by then comparing across a group of similar or different cases.
  • Be sure that the students come upon an understanding of all of the contextual factors in the given case. Be prepared with a list of such factors following the assignment.
  • Choose cases that in some ways intersect so that students can easily draw similarities among the cases studied by other students so as to connect the learning.
  • In some cases, the instructor may be able to utilize a completely fabricated case to study. However, these should be carefully tested with a colleague prior to student exposure.


What accommodations may be needed for students with disabilities or other special needs? The primary accommodation for this exercise may involve access to the case to be studied.


For a new case study, at least two weeks will be needed for a very basic case analysis to 8 weeks for a more developed analysis. Case-Based Instruction can take place in a single session to one week of asynchronous instruction.

Ideas for Lesson Evaluation and Teacher Reflection

How did the students like the lesson? End of semester evaluations should ask about the usefulness and learning accomplished through such activities. Also, the conversation that occurs during the activity will help guage how the students are enjoying various aspects and whether they are learning and/or participating.

Questions the instructor shoudld ask when evaluating the lesson include: Were the students engaged in efficiently processing the case-based information? What skills did they excell at or lack? How might the activity be presented alternatively in future courses to be more effective?

How was student learning verified? Participation can be assessed in discussion sessions. A rubric can also be set up to help gauge the quality of final work.

For more information on assessing case-based instruction, see the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science at the University at Buffalo.

Useful References

  • Block, K. K. (1996). The case method in modern educational psychology texts. Teaching & Teacher Education, 12(5), 483-500.
  • Elksnin, L. K. (1998). Use of the case method of instruction in special education teacher preparation programs: A preliminary investigation. Teacher Education and Special Education, 21(2), pp. 95-108.
  • Ertmer, P. A., Newby, T. J., & MacDougall, M. (1996). Students’ responses and approaches to case-based instruction : The role of reflective self-regulation. American Educational Research Journal, 33(3). pp. 3-4.
  • Harrington, H. L. (199 1). The case as method. Action in Teacher Education, 12 (4), pp. 1 -10.
  • Kleinfeld, 1 (1990). Creating cases on your own. Department of Education, Rural College, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
  • National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, (2005). Case method teaching. Buffalo, CO: University of Buffalo. Retrieved January 8, 2007, from http://ublib.buffalo.edu/libraries/projects/cases/teaching/teaching.html
  • Stepich, D. A., Ertmer, P. A., & Lane, M. M. (2001, September). Problem-solving in a case-based course: Strategies for facilitating coached expertise. Educational Technology Research and Development, 49(3). pp. 53-67.
  • Williams, S. M. (1992). Putting case-based instruction into context: Examples from legal and medical education. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 2(4). p. 367-427.
  • Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership
  • Yahoo Groups – eCASE
  • The Case Association, http://www.caseweb.org/