The Importance of case study analysis in distance education

Summary note

Before we talk about the importance of case study analysis in distance education, I know there are very many conflicting concepts about which term is appropriate; whether distance education, e-learning, online education and so on. However, what I’m referring here as “distance education” is any learning environment which is different from learning that occurs in a traditional classroom environment. Self-paced is a descriptor used for learning environments that enable individuals to study [away from their instructor] in their own time and at their own pace, from their own location. This mode of learning provides the learner more autonomy to proceed at their own pace, while their progress is [in most cases may be] monitored to assess their achievement (Rhode, 2009; Spector et al., 2008).

Importance of Distance Education:

Distance education is a powerful and growing force in education at university level, in a wide variety of subjects. In developing countries, distance education enables a very small number of instructors to reach the whole population, and can educate students at a lower per capita cost than in conventional institutions. Many of the largest distance education institutions are in developing countries. In distance education the student is remote from the campus, and is educated through a mixture of media, the specially prepared printed text being central. Depending on available resources, a wide variety of other media can be used, notably TV, video, and the personal computer, all of which can be located at study centers and shared by a number of students. A good range of non-trivial observational and experimental work can be performed in many disciplines without any special equipment. Some measure of support throughout the course is essential, even if only in the form of written correspondence with a tutor, and student self-help groups. Distance education methods are also important on campus, where supported self study can make up for a shortfall of teachers.

In highly metropolitan cities, many people prefer distance education for career development, to continue their education and improve their knowledge.

In a period like this when the world is plagued with economic crisis, jobs are hard to find, employers and raising the educational requirement bar for their work force to be able to effectively handle the present crisis and growing competition. Many employees don’t want to lose their jobs because they want to increase their educational qualification considering the fact that they have huge responsibilities to look after (families, children, school, etc).

As a result, distance education has become the best alternative.

NB: “In education and in business, your conclusions have little meaning unless they are shared with others” (William, 2007), which many call “interaction”. “It is through such interactions that knowledge can be constructed in a meaningful and memorable fashion” (Rhode, J. F. (2009).

The question now is “How do we get the best out of distance education?”

Because we have to study and do most of the work alone, one of the best ways to achieve greater understanding in distance education is through case analysis, discussion and writing.

Importance of Case analysis in distance education:

Of what value is your education and business skill if you can’t share with others?

The case method is all about sharing and comparing opinions and learning from the differences and similarities. In an academic program, communicating conclusions about a case occurs orally, in study groups and class discussions, in discussion forums, or in formal presentations. It also occurs in writing, in class assignments, research projects, and examinations (William 2007).

Even leading professional schools realize that their students require more than lectures to develop the knowledge, attitudes, and skills required to achieve success within their selected professions. Case method teaching presents students with real-world problems that involve them in analysis, decision making, and action. This kind of active learning helps students make the transition from class work to meeting the challenges of professional practice. More and more professional schools are incorporating case method teaching into their programs and in a variety of ways. Professor David Garvin did a great job on this, tracing the development of the case method within the law, business, and medical schools at Harvard University. He outlines the differences between the types of cases used, the preparation and class process, and the emphasis, tone, and objective of the learning for each school.

NB: True, most of us are quite familiar with the lecture system where we get information from a lecturer or a book. That is very good but the limitations are very that students don’t get the opportunity to test their understanding using real life situations. This can be very embarrassing to most students when they face the real world.

One other setback in lecture based learning is that, learners are encouraged to memorize facts and are tested most often on how well they can remember and reproduce facts in the lecture.

On the other hand, case analysis based learning focuses on how well you can apply principles, concepts, and functional skills in real life situations.

So in the lecture method, learners receive knowledge from an expert; while in the case method, learners make knowledge with the assistance of an expert.

Many institutions send their students in professional programs to institutions and organizations to acquire practical skills. Sometimes the teachers in these environments did not have as much formal education as their students, yet they have an enormous amount of experience that places them on the leading position. They don’t work on definitions and theories, but on the realities on the ground.

IIMTS organizes weekend case analysis class and discussion forums for students. You can contact them for more information.

What is case analysis then?

To answer this question, let us first of all be clear what a case is.

A case is any information– a text for example, or situation, that is not explicit enough to the reader.

Better still, a case is a real life situation put in writing. This can come from any field or work of life.

Let us now see how we can make meaning out of a text that originally appeared inexplicit by using facts and data contained in the text. The best way to analyze a text is to take the role of the protagonists in the text. In some cases, you may be lucky enough to come across information you are familiar with which may help you stir you thought. However, it is better to put yourself in the situation of any case and think according to the facts presented.

The case analysis methodology believes that we learn even more from colleagues and class mates through sharing and analyzing cases.

Understanding a case

One of the most important guides to understanding a text is to let the text guide you. Use information in the text to discover what is happening. You have to perform a careful analysis of the situation in the text.

First and foremost, you need the required functional skills in the field from which the case is drawn. For example, in a business case, you need to know the basics and complementary concepts and theories to have a better understanding of a like case. Only then can you better apply the functional skills in real situations.

The next important point is that you should learn to think about a text and not just reading the text. It is true that in a new case you would not know what to think about until you have read the case. However, the bottom line is letting your thought flow in line with the situations in the text and not memorizing the text.

Types of case situations

Most cases would be based on:

Problem solving

Decision making

Evaluating results/situations

Rules

Inquiring knowledge from a teacher or expert is very necessary but not sufficient. Applying knowledge acquired is what makes us real professionals.

Every true professional must be able to think logically based on the situation on the ground about the goals they are trying to achieve and the people they are working with.

 

Notes

  1. William Ellet, The Case Study Handbook: How to Read, Discuss, and Write Persuasively About Cases, (Harvard Business School Publishing, 2007)
  2. Rhode, J. F. (2009). Interaction equivalency in self-paced online learning environments: An exploration of learner preferences.The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(1). Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/603/1179

 

Jude R. Maimo is Head of Academic Affairs at the International Institute of Management and Technology Studies- IIMTS, and Executive Officer in charge of Academics at 3G University.

Contact:

E-Mail: jude@iimts.com; jude@3guniversity.ae

Website: www.iimts.com & www.3guniversity.ae