Problem and Case-Based Learning

Some keys to effective use of inquiry in the classroom include shifting classroom culture, clarifying learning objectives and desired outcomes, accurately assessing students’ readiness, careful design of inquiries, and evaluation and reflection of the results.  A culture of inquiry values students as knowledge holders, knowledge seekers, and knowledge creators. The professor’s job is not to provide information that students may need to recall at some future date but rather to support students to construct knowledge and generate deep understanding in a manner that will have value beyond the school environment.

What is Problem-Based Learning?

Problem-based learning allows complex, messy, open-ended problems to drive learning. Problems are given to students before they have all the knowledge needed to solve them. Students discover they do not have all the information needed to solve the problem, and then actively work on finding information. Problems can be designed to span many classes, or be created to fit within a single class period.

What is Case-Based Learning?

Case-based learning presents learners with specific scenarios that are similar to or inspired by real-world examples that students may experience. The faculty member acts as a facilitator that helps students engage in discussions and interrogate resources and supports to address the questions posed in the case. 

How is Problem-Based Learning  Structured?

The video below summarizes phases of problem-based learning.

How is Case-Based Learning Structured?

When utilizing case-based learning, the first thing that is needed is a case. Cases can come from real-world events or experiences so they do not need to be written completely from scratch. Some groups, like the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science and MIT Sloan School of Management have collections of cases you can look  through as well. Cases can also be tailored to fit into the goals of a course. For some examples, see Types of Cases from the Edutech Wiki.

Consider integrating cases by using smaller, lower-pressure cases first to help students get used to working together and approaching case-based learning. Students are often not prepared to work collaboratively with others and require some structures to help them do so effectively.

Using Team-Based Learning to Structure Inquiry

Team Based Learning (TBL) is a prescribed version of Problem Based Learning that is highly engaging for students because it confronts them with real world problems and forces them to work in teams to make a decision; no fence sitting allowed! TBL flips the classroom so that students must come to class armed with knowledge that they will then use to grapple with the problems presented to them. Jim Sibley and Peter Ostafichuk’s book, Getting Started with Team-Based Learning, provides an excellent overview of the approach and the support from VIU’s Center for Innovation and Excellence in Learning (CIEL) to implement TBL is exceptionally good. Two activities that worked well in the TBL classroom follow.

What are Problem and Case-Based Learning Good For?

Problem and Case-Based Learning can be great tools to:

  • Support students' learning to work collaboratively to solve problems
  • Encourage students to interrogate readings and resources to build understanding
  • Provide real-world context for theoretical knowledge
  • Engage students in applications of their learning

Additional Resources for Inquiry

What are Instructors Saying?

Watch this video below to learn how case-based learning was used to transfer HR training.