Curious Case Of Case Studies In Management Education

This piece will discuss that why wider adoption of the case study method can enhance the efficacy of management education in Indian business schools

File photo of IMI -Delhi Campus

A good case study, according to Professor Paul Lawrence, is “the vehicle by which a chunk of reality is brought into the classroom to be worked over by the class and the instructor. A good case keeps the class discussion grounded upon some of the stubborn facts that must be faced in real life situations.”

The case study method, popularised by Harvard Business School, has been adopted by almost all the top MBA programmes in the world. However, for years before this shift in pedagogy occurred, the teaching methodology was almost fully dependent on lectures. In contrast, several management colleges around the world spend less than half of the time on lectures today, with some dedicating nearly 60% of the teaching time towards discourses and analyses of case studies. 

According to Prof. Rajat Gera at Manav Rachna International University, “The case study method is frequently used by me and I use most cases written by myself, which can be accessed on Harvard Business Publishing’s website. These case studies are of international standards, yet have an Indian touch to them. That’s because the context of the business problem is very crucial for students learning through the case study method.” He says that he uses case studies to help students not only learn the intricacies of sound decision making, but he also makes sure that certain applications of theoretical concepts are covered in the discussion moderated by himself. He uses the method in which the important business, central, and peripheral issues are covered in a general discussion and specific solutions are presented by the students. 

Cases are narratives, situations, select data samplings, or statements that present unresolved and provocative issues, situations, or questions, as described by the Indiana University Teaching Handbook, 2005. The case method is a participatory, discussion-based way of learning where students gain skills in critical thinking, communication, and group dynamics. It is, you could say, a type of problem-based learning. Dr. Dinesh Batra, a professor of management studies and author of several case studies, feels that it is also important to use certain references which are either prepared by the teachers in the teaching notes or proposed by the moderator. He believes that some relevant contextual readings should also be shared before the case is discussed, in order to make the discourse meaningful. 

However, there are certain challenges to the adoption of case studies in management education in India. The major one of them is that most cases used by management institutions lack an Indian context. The situations and business problems discussed in many case studies are largely from American or European companies, and it is only recently that a lot of Indian authors have started writing cases based on Indian businesses. Another challenge is in the way educators in the country use case studies in the teaching curriculum. Indian students are used to teachers teaching them bits of theory in the class and using the cases as illustrative examples, which in the opinion of the author is a sub-optimal utilization of this exciting and brilliant way of learning.

Prof. Vijay Vancheswar, a management professional turned academician, says that the adoption of the case study method has its own pros and cons in the Indian context. He adds “The actual business problems that exist in the real world have neither a fixed timeline with pre-conceived solutions, nor are they easily resolved with easy-looking theoretical solutions we generate in a classroom setting. The case study method gives students the practice of navigating through a business problem, like a simulator that pilots use to learn how to deal with emergencies and initiate various procedures. Similarly, management students need to comprehend the underlying causes of complex problems and to formulate possible solutions for those which actually occur in real life”. But he looks at the flip side and says that “although it is difficult to draw parallels between an existing problem and one in the past, the  case method also helps in developing the communications skills of students which they would require in informal settings or informal meetings with their superiors.” 

The adoption of case studies in Indian business schools is increasing as it is a powerful teaching method that does not look at concepts sequentially as they are taught in academic sessions. By working on cases, students can dig deeper into the underlying substance of the case quickly, analyze it, and then articulate their conclusions in ways persuasive to others in the group. It also allows the students to learn with the instructor posing complex problems that require solutions which are not necessarily applied in a sequential manner. European and Ivy League business schools have education systems that enable and encourage students to pre-read cases and discuss them at length. On a contrasting note, Indian business schools predominately focus on getting students to attend theory sessions while using cases as a secondary method of teaching, which ultimately inhibits the actual potential of this method. However, the silver lining is that the usage of cases in Indian management education is on the rise and good business schools are adopting internationally benchmarked teaching practices into the curriculum. This trend will not only benefit the students in their learning process but also corporates and businesses, allowing them to gain from the business administration knowledge and abilities of a highly skilled crop of young vibrant managers.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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