Case Based Learning


Activating students in large (or small) classes

Teaching with cases is a very suitable method to use when lectures are the main teaching form in a course. Students are made to use their knowledge in the field of subject and work actively with the course content.

The case method involves learning by doing, the development of analytical and decision-making skills, the internalization of learning, learning how to grapple with messy real-life problems, the development of skills in oral communications, and often team work. You can say that it's a rehearsal for life.

The idea is that in analyzing complex authentic cases, the students

  • become aware of the kinds of situations and dilemmas they might have to face as professionals
  • gain both theoretical and practical understanding of their subjects
  • develop critical reasoning skills
  • explore their existing preconceptions, beliefs, and patterns of thinking
  • make necessary modifications in those preconceptions, beliefs, and patterns to accommodate the realities of the cases (from Lundeberg et al.)

How to Implement Case Based Learning

What is a case
Cases typically involve one or more challenges of various types, such as diagnosing technical problems and formulating solution strategies, making business management decisions taking into account technical, economic, and possibly social and psychological considerations, and confronting ethical dilemmas. The cases should be authentic—representative of situations likely to be encountered in professional practice—and may be drawn from stories in newspapers or magazines or built from interviews with individuals involved in the situations in question. A case might include descriptions of what happened and what led up to it, the problems and challenges, the resources and constraints under which solutions could be sought, the decisions that were made, the actions that were taken, and the outcomes.

Making good cases

In this method the construction and formulation of the cases are important. They must cover the topics of the lecture, and they must provide a suitable challenge for the students. It may be a real life problem or a constructed task the students must work with and discuss.Kardos & Smith defined a case in the context of engineering education as “an account of an engineering activity, event or problem containing some of the background and complexities actually encountered by an engineer.”

A tool for the teacher is the “case difficulty cube”. In accordance with the principles of this model, the cases become increasingly complex during the course:

Analytical dimension

Degree 1: Problem and decision given

Degree 2: Only problem given

Degree 3: No problem

Conceptual dimension

Degree 1: One simple theory

Degree 2: Multiple simple or one complex

Degree 3: Multiple complex theories

Presentation dimension

Degree 1: Short & Well-organized: All data given - No extra data

Degree 2: Longer & Semi-organized: Some data is presented clearly, some extraneous data is included

Degree 3: Long & Unorganized: Relevant data missing - Extra data given


Deep learning often takes place when a student finds a meaningful connection with the content being taught – so make your cases relevant and meaningful to your students. The advantages of case studies are that they are engaging since they take on narrative forms; for this reason, it is thought that real dilemmas are more effective than hypothetical ones. Because of their narrative form, case studies may appear more relevant to a student’s professional or ordinary life than more abstract discussions.

Supporting Case Based Learning with Learning Technology

You can make your case as a short video, either filmed in the video studios at DTU or by interviewing a peer from the industry who has a curricula relevant case. You can also use drawing when you explain a case – e.g. with a pencast or a Wacom digitizer.

 Tools for recording cases or explaining cases to students in an electronic format:

  • Video consultants - consultants record a video in the studio or on-site (for a fee)
  • Walk-in studio - create your own video (free)
  • Pencast - electronic drawing to explain parts of the case to the students  
  • Digital whiteboard - electronic drawing to explain parts of the case to the students
  • Screencast - create a rich case description with multimedia 

Tools to use in class when presenting and discussing cases:

  • Clickshare - students can present their work from their own computer over a wireless connection
  • Clickers - for voting and peer instruction

Reading & References

Case Based Learning

The procedure follows a three-stage learning process

Before class, the students are given a case to read and analyze as preparation:


 1. Individual preparation of the case



In class the case-work follows the procedure:


      2. Small-group (2-4 students) discussion to sum up their knowledge and come to some conclusions about the case


      3. Class discussion on the case lead by the teacher