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The Power of the Case Method

#MBA #Harvard #CaseMethod #Case

The “Case Method” is an educational method that became famous in Japan through “Harvard University’s Justice with Michael Sandel.” The method, which is conducted using a discussion between the lecturer and the students (although “case method” is its official name as an educational method, we generally call it “case study”), has been incorporated by many MBA programs across the globe. Many business schools in Japan have adopted this teaching approach, which is said to have been pioneered by Professor Haruo Takagi.

The case method taught in MBA programs aims to provide the students with an “I would act this way” stance by reliving, through their own perspectives, the decision-making process faced by the protagonists of actual business situations (e.g., owners of the case company). In other words, instead of “knowledge acquisition,” it focuses on a learning experience centered on the participants, who engage in active discussions and role plays to broaden their worldview and horizons as entrepreneurs.

Preparation for class (participants)

In the case method, a case of around 20 to 30 pages, which is distributed by the teacher before the class, is normally composed of a case material (teaching material) and an assignment (task). While reading the case, which necessarily has a “protagonist,” the participants are asked to organize their thoughts from the protagonist’s perspective on an assignment previously defined by the teacher.

• Are you in favor or against the financial performance in the V-shaped recovery? (Financial Accounting) • Is the investor, Mr. A., an enemy or an ally? (Finance) • Are you in favor of the business succession to Mr. A.? (Leadership) • Are you in favor of the store expansion to the Chinese market? (Management Strategy)

Group Discussion 10%

In the case method, before the lecture, a “group session” focused on all of the cases scheduled for the day is carried out including the aforementioned assignment. This is a time when the participants independently come together to share their opinions about the case assignment and prepare for the class. Hence, the teacher tries not to interfere in the discussions, and the activities conducted here are not considered in the performance evaluation. It is important that this activity is used as a time in which the participants can comment freely and “teach each other” using the case as shared information, not as a “time to prepare a presentation.”

Class Discussion 60%

In the case method, before the lecture, a “group session” focused on all of the cases scheduled for the day is carried out including the aforementioned assignment. This is a time when the participants independently come together to share their opinions about the case assignment and prepare for the class. Hence, the teacher tries not to interfere in the discussions, and the activities conducted here are not considered in the performance evaluation. It is important that this activity is used as a time in which the participants can comment freely and “teach each other” using the case as shared information, not as a “time to prepare a presentation.”

Cold Calling

Cold calling may be used in the case method. This is a system where the teacher asks one student a question related to the case when the class discussion begins. Many business schools around the world, including Harvard Business School, have adopted this method of starting a lecture, which requires the students to be fully acquainted with the case before the class. The designated student is then asked to comment on the case for about ten minutes. It is a chilling system that is unique to case studies, where if the student skips the assignment, he or she may lose credit for that lecture if judged not to have made any contribution to it.

Finally, the case method includes the following implicit rules:

1. There is no right or wrong answer
2. Comments are to be made for the entire class
3. The level of contribution to the class is reflected in the grades

It is common sense that 1+1 does not equal 2 in business. Thus, in MBA programs, using previous cases as learning material to practice “how I would judge and act in that situation.” and thereby gain experience, is arguably the best aspect of the case method. For this reason, I believe the single most important factor when teaching or learning with the case method is “not to seek one correct answer.” Please check the commentary I made in another article on Is there a right answer in a case study?

Lecture 30%

The lecture is the part of the class where the teacher provides a complementary explanation of the contents that has been deepened through the class discussion. Since the quality of a case discussion includes improvised live elements, the information written on the blackboard is, naturally, never the same. In addition, since it is not possible to cover an entire academic field with two or three cases, these kinds of complementary lectures are necessary. The lecture may be given before or after the class discussion; from my experience, the latter is more common.