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Methods of delivery

Developing and using case studies


Case studies are descriptions of a real life experience, related to the field of study or training, which are used to make points, raise issues or otherwise enhance the participants’ understanding and learning experience. The account usually follows a realistic scenario, such as a management or technical problem, from start to finish. Because they provide practical examples of problems and solutions, challenges and strategies, they support more theoretical material and often make the “lesson” more memorable and believable for the class.

As Laura Millar notes in Writing Case Studies: A Manual (part of the Managing Public Sector Records Training Programme materials published in 1999 by the ICA and IRMT), case studies are particularly useful in the archives and records management field as there is so much variety in the full range of archives and records management programmes with many different types of organisations as well as local, national, and regional differences.

How to develop and write case studies

There are no definite rules about developing case studies. The initial choice of subject will depend on serendipity — a practitioner will have had an experience which provides a good example of a situation which illustrates something the teacher wants the class to learn. Case studies can of course be fictional in detail whilst still based on a practitioner’s experience and knowledge. Fictitious case studies are appropriate if the real example is not rounded enough or there is some reason for keeping organisations and individuals confidential. It is also possible to write a single case study, for example about developing a project plan, which incorporates examples of documentation and action from several different projects in various organisations.

The case study may include some or all of the following:

Depending on how the trainer intends to use the case study, it may or may not provide the solution or answers to the problems posed.

How can case studies be used for training and education

There are two aspects to the use of case studies in the classroom or training room: how they can be presented to the participants and what the desired learning outcomes are for the participants.

Learning outcomes

Case studies are a substitute for student placements in the workplace if the course of study cannot allow for this. For this reason, they are particularly useful in a short training course. They also provide realistic simulations of the kinds of real life experiences students can expect when they practice for themselves. For students who are pursuing on-the-job training, case studies can offer alternative experiences, approaches and solutions which will broaden the students’ knowledge and skills.

In reading or listening to case studies and thinking about the scenario and possible solutions, students develop skills which they will need to pursue their careers. The skill set includes:

Presentation and use

There are many different ways to use case studies. How they are used will depend on the length of the course, the subject matter and upon the delivery style of the trainer.

In a short training course a presentation by the author, perhaps with supporting visual aids, is a really good way of providing practical examples of the theory or techniques that are being covered. The presentation can be followed by questions and answers to give the class a chance to clarify and enhance understanding. This might be a free-for-all or more carefully structured with the presenter asking questions designed to focus participants on particular aspects of the problem evoked in the case. In a longer course it might be possible to get the class to read through the case study for themselves before participating in discussion.

Case studies can be very effective when they are used comparatively. In this approach the case studies might be presented to or read by the class. This would be followed, once everyone was familiar with the cases, by general discussion, discussion focused by the trainer, group work or even worksheets prepared by the trainer. Again, the object of the follow-up discussion or group work is to help the students to appreciate the challenges inherent in the scenario and think through the various ways of approaching and solving them.

Another possibility is to provide the class with only part of the case study and to get members of the class to act out a scenario. For example, a meeting where the archivist or records manager had to convince other stakeholders of the need for a course of action or provision of funding. The students should be asked to present the individual concerns and point of view of the various protagonists. A variation on this approach is to give some of the details to the class and get them to ask questions to get the full picture.

Case studies can provide the basis of individual or group assignments. The student or group of students is given a case study and asked to write an analysis and any recommendations that seem appropriate. If the students need help in getting started, a SWOT analysis can be very effective — the trainer can provide a list of questions around the four elements (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), or the students can use the schema as a basis for their own analysis.

In longer training courses it can be very effective to get students to develop their own case studies. This allows students to apply their learning, try out their newly gained skills, learn some more and demonstrate what they have learned. By, in effect in writing their own case, students can:

Further reading

There are four publications in the Managing Public Sector Records Training Programme series which are particularly relevant to case study development and use in the archives and records management sector. Details are as follows:

These publications are available in Word or Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format from the IRMT Website,

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Last updated: 20 December 2005