Case Studies

Learning in context


Case studies examine specific issues by analyzing a contextual scenario. They can be used to holistically introduce key concepts or learning topics, analyze circumstances, diagnose problems and propose solutions. They are a way of concretely presenting theory that might otherwise remain abstract. Case studies encourage the development of individual ideas and the understanding of diverse perspectives through participatory discussion and collaborative analysis. This method is related to storytelling, but allows more control over the content.

How to use it

  • Demonstrate theoretical principles.
  • Examine whole systems and communicate complexity.
  • Understand real contexts.
  • Explore solutions, generate hypotheses, compare challenges and analyze scenarios.

How to apply it

  • One or more case studies to analyze.
  • Flipcharts to document group consensus on the questions.
  • Design a case study that will be interesting to the audience, as well as relevant to the objectives.
    • Objectives may be to identify the differences, causes or symptoms related to one or more case, for example.
    • Include an introductory paragraphbackground information, an overview of the situation and any additional details, such as data.
    • Be sensitive when referring to specific country contexts.
    • Incorporate pedagogical elements, such as risk factors or subtle details, to add authenticity.
    • Create an engaging story by applying humour, descriptive dialogue, and characters people can relate to.
    • Write in clear and simple language.

How to adapt it

  • The case can be presented to the group as a whole with an engaging presentation, if there are literacy concerns.
    • Media can diversify the way information is communicated. Video clips or recorded expert dialogue will reach different types of learners better.
  • Presenting multiple cases that focus on a central problem allows participants to notice basic principles and factors that the cases have in common.
  • The Action Maze technique requires participants to select the next steps to solving a problem, based on the expected outcomes of each decision. A series of dilemmas with associated answers are created in advance, with each decision responding to the consequence of the previous decision until a desirable conclusion is reached. There are various software applications for creating online Action Mazes.
  • The Incident Process is a case study that begins with only a brief explanation of a situation. The participants learn to gather facts from other people, as they must ask the right questions of the trainer (or expert) in order to gain enough information to formulate a solution. This is difficult with large groups, unless the case studies are real participant situations and those participants are present in small groups to answer the questions.
  • The Wrong Way, Right Way version of a case study helps the participants to identify errors and understand best practice. A case study demonstrating incorrect or less than ideal decisions is discussed, followed by an examination of the same situation, but where different actions and decisions have changed the outcomes.

Case study


Case studies for specialist audiences


Services in depth

Contact: (Employers’ Activities), (DELTA)


To compare best practices and design practical approaches to expanding employer organizations’ service portfolios, real case studies were selected before the activity. Participants were asked to prepare in advance a four-slide overview and key elements of:

1) a successful service offered to members;

2) an unsuccessful service offered to members. Four or five cases were selected on the basis of their interest, relevance and replicability. One case was presented each day by the participants themselves in no more than 15 minutes. After a brief question-and-answer session, a panel discussion with the group as a whole explored details and offered suggestions. This approach was well received by the participants and is used in many courses because the content is both concrete and specific. The presentations that were not analyzed during the course were included in the materials given to the participants.


  • Avoid case studies of difficult problems without conceivable solutions, because this will create frustration.
  • Exclude unnecessary details; instead, keep the cases short and succinct.
  • If you want to use long and complex case studies, provide them in advance, such as during Phase 1 of the Blended Learning Approach, with clear instructions, to prepare for the in-class exercise.
  • Instruct participants to focus on identifying the problem before searching for solutions.
  • In small groups, timid participants can start by writing individual responses and sharing them as discussion items.
  • Examine actual cases proposed by participants,to enhance the level of participation and provide practical solutions to challenges. Be sure to collect adequate details and make sure that the issue is relevant to everyone.
  • Methods such as Role Play and Round Robin can be adapted to complement the case study and boost the level of participation.
  • Instruct participants to rank the quality of possible solutions in small groups to facilitate consensus-building.
  • Note participants who demonstrate frustration with the lack of standard solutions. Explain the participatory purpose of case studies that by nature result in various solutions and perspectives.
  • Five steps that guarantee effective use of the case study method:
    • Get a commitment from the participants to engage in the process actively,
    • Probe the conversations for evidence-based conclusions,
    • Reinforce positive ideas, approaches and decisions throughout the activity,
    • Provide regular guidance about omissions,
    • Elicit a general principle that reflects the lessons learned,
    • Conclude with the next steps to consolidate the insights.


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