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Queen's University

Centre for Teaching and Learning

What is Case-Based Learning?

Using a case-based approach engages students in discussion of specific scenarios that resemble or typically are real-world examples. This method is learner-centered with intense interaction between participants as they build their knowledge and work together as a group to examine the case. The instructor's role is that of a facilitator while the students collaboratively analyze and address problems and resolve questions that have no single right answer.

Clyde Freeman Herreid provides eleven basic rules for case-based learning.

  1. Tells a story.
  2. Focuses on an interest-arousing issue.
  3. Set in the past five years
  4. Creates empathy with the central characters.
  5. Includes quotations. There is no better way to understand a situation and to gain empathy for the characters
  6. Relevant to the reader.
  7. Must have pedagogic utility.
  8. Conflict provoking.
  9. Decision forcing.
  10. Has generality.
  11. Is short.

Why Use Case-Based Learning?

To provide students with a relevant opportunity to see theory in practice. Real world or authentic contexts expose students to viewpoints from multiple sources and see why people may want different outcomes. Students can also see how a decision will impact different participants, both positively and negatively.

To require students to analyze data in order to reach a conclusion. Since many assignments are open-ended, students can practice choosing appropriate analytic techniques as well. Instructors who use case-based learning say that their students are more engaged, interested, and involved in the class.

To develop analytic, communicative and collaborative skills along with content knowledge. In their effort to find solutions and reach decisions through discussion, students sort out factual data, apply analytic tools, articulate issues, reflect on their relevant experiences, and draw conclusions they can relate to new situations. In the process, they acquire substantive knowledge and develop analytic, collaborative, and communication skills.

Many faculty also use case studies in their curriculum to teach content, connect students with real life data, or provide opportunities for students to put themselves in the decision maker's shoes.



Herreid, C. F. (2007). Start with a story: The case study method of teaching college science. NSTA Press.

Select Books in the Centre for Teaching and Learning Library

Crosling, G. & Webb, G. (2002). Supporting Student Learning: Case Studies, Experience and Practice from Higher Education. London: Kogan Page

Edwards, H., Smith, B., & Webb, G. (Eds.) (2001). Lecturing: Case Studies, Experience and Practice. London: Kogan Page.

Ellington, H. & Earl, S. (1998). Using Games, Simulations and Interactive Case Studies. Birmingham: Staff and Educational Development Association

Wassermann, S. (1994). Introduction to Case Method Teaching: A Guide to the Galaxy. New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.

Online Articles

Bieron, J. & Dinan, F. (1999). Case Studies Across a Science Curriculum.Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Canisius College in Buffalo, NY.

Walters. M. R. (1999). Case-stimulated learning within endocrine physiology lectures: An approach applicable to other disciplines. Advances in Physiology Education, 276, 74-78.

Websites and Online Case Collections

The Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey offers a wide variety of references including 21 links to case repositories in the Health Sciences.

The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science provides an award-winning library of over 410 cases and case materials while promoting the development and dissemination of innovative materials and sound educational practices for case teaching in the sciences.

Houghton and Mifflin provide an excellent resource for students including on analysing and writing the case.

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