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Chapter 1.2. A Model for Strategic Planning, Analyzing Cases and Decison Making

Chapter 1.3 Forest & Forest Case

Chapter 2. Influencing / Persuading

Chapter 3. Negotiating / Conflict Resolution

Chapter 4. Networking / Self Marketing

Chapter 5. Entrepreneuring / Venturing

Chapter 6. Business Plan Outline

Chapter 7. HBS Case Method Deprives Students of An Authentic Learning Experience

Chapter 8. Improving Your Ability to Recognize Business Opportunities

Chapter 9. Why Business Schools Need to Know What MBAs Want to Learn and How to Find Out

Chapter 10. What do MBAs Want and What Do They Get?

Chapter 11. Applying Services Marketing Concepts to the Administration of A Business School

Chapter 12. A Model of the Business School as A Developer of Achievers

Chapter 13. Obtaining More Options in Your 401(k) or 403 (b) Retirement Plan

Chapter 14. Breathe Slowly - Reduce Your Blood Pressure

Chapter 15. The Body Mass Index (BMI) Is Wrong



Chapter 7. HBS Case Method Deprives Students Of An Authentic Learning Experience


 Case study teaching patterned on the Harvard Business School model deprives students of an authentic learning experience. The teacher is too much of a star and the students are too passive. As a result, the students fail to develop important skills that they need for success in their business careers. Four strategies following the concept of Authentic Learning are suggested. Students become more active and less dependent on the professor in class, perform challenging tasks in the real world of business and in general, engage in projects that are similar to the tasks they are expected to perform on the job.

 KEYWORDS: Case Method, Authentic Learning, Business Success, Skill Development.


 Case method teaching as developed by the Harvard Business School is centered on the performance of the professor. Students prepare for class by reading a case study written by experienced case writers, select a strategy and prepare to defend it. If time permits, they discuss their work with a few classmates before coming to class. The real action is in the classroom. The professor, who is a skilled discussion leader, asks provocative questions, pits one student against another, compares alternative solutions and goads the class into reaching significant conclusions [Bonoma, 1989]. Given typically large class sizes, the individual student's participation consists of one or two verbal contributions and a lot of watching and listening. Furthermore, even if the instructor wants to shift the focus of the learning experience from him/herself to the students, by organizing them into small groups and challenging them to prepare a presentation on the case, the layout of the HBS classroom makes this very difficult. In a style being copied by other B-schools, the students sit at tables fixed to the floor and arranged in five levels, colloquially identified (in rising order) as Worm Deck, Garden Deck, Power Deck, Warning Track and Sky Deck [Atlas, 1999].

 In real world business settings, MBAs are not given case studies written by expert writers to analyze. If the newly-hired MBA is assigned to make a recommendation about a business situation, a substantial part of the assignment is to gather information and prepare an unbiased description of the situation. In performing this work, MBAs engage in most of the following:

 1. Interview people and ask information-producing questions.

 2. Conduct library research.

 3. Conduct internet research.

 4. Analyze the data obtained.

 5. Prepare recommendations.

 6. Give written and oral presentations.

 Furthermore, in business settings, newly-hired MBAs do not participate in meetings of 90 people, arranged in decks and tracks conducted by expert case study discussion leaders. Typical business meetings consist of 3 to 6 people. Any more than that and some of the participants become observers. This is not a productive use of MBA time. High-priced case discussion leaders are not employed to conduct these meetings. It is expected that MBAs will be able to function effectively as members of small teams, sometimes working under tight time pressures.

 It seems fair to conclude that current case study instruction practice contributes very little to the development of the skills that MBAs need to perform effectively in business. This is regrettable because case study work has great potential for helping students to develop essential business skills while they analyze Harvard Business School case studies in depth.

 So, what is to be done? I have used the Authentic Learning approach in structuring case study courses because it offers the most realistic approach for preparing students to perform effectively in the world of business.

 Some distinctions may be useful. In traditional teaching, the focus is on students' acquisition of facts and theories (content). The principal teaching method is lecture, possibly enhanced with discussion and audio-visual aids. Experiential Learning creates a more active role for students through case discussions, role-playing and simulations. Its aim is still to convey content but make it more memorable by increasing student involvement.

 Authentic Learning differs from traditional and experiential methods in that the primary objective is not conveying content but creating learning experiences that are as close as possible to experiences that students encounter in real life. The emphasis is not on acquisition of facts and theories but on increasing students' ability to perform tasks that are valuable to employers and/or to the students themselves. The teacherÃ�ùs role is changed but not diminished. Instead of lecturing or leading a case discussion, the teacher provides direction, structure, guidance and standards.


 Ricks [1994] is a strong advocate of the authentic learning approach. He asserts that each event that displays the superiority of the teacher threatens learning. Each event that demonstrates the success of the learner makes the learning permanent. In his 1997 paper, he concludes that people who have done a task well and have told others how they did it are nearing skills mastery while people who have been shown or told or Ã�ómade awareÃ�ò have not even taken the first step to mastery.

 Gordon [1998] defines three types of authentic learning:

 1. Academic challenges: Students produce a paper or a presentation assigned by the instructor.

 2. Scenario challenges: Students make believe that they were hired by a business firm or a government agency to study a situation and to present a plan for solving a problem.

 3. Real-life problems: Students examine a real situation and prepare a plan for solving a problem or achieving an objective. Cronin [1993] offers suggestions for realizing the potential of authentic learning:

 1. Do not expect complete authenticity.

 2. Exploit available opportunities for authentic learning. Even traditional textbooks contain suggestions for authentic learning assignments.

 3. Start with less complex tasks.

 4. Keep it simple: students' experiences in school should resemble the experiences they encounter in their lives.

 To sum up, if the goal of business education is to enable students to perform well in their jobs, teaching of content is not enough. Furthermore, traditional case study teaching is actually harmful to students because it builds up the role of the discussion-leading teacher at the expense of the students. Authentic learning is especially appropriate in a business school because studentsÃ�ù success in business is so heavily dependent on teamwork efforts directed at solving problems and exploiting business opportunities.


 The actual application of the Authentic Learning may be described in terms of changed responsibilities. My job as a teacher has changed from being a leader of case discussions to being a mentor to students who take full responsibility for their education. I assign experiential and authentic learning work, provide guidance, supervise class meetings, read and grade reports and offer suggestions for improvement. The students do a lot of authentic learning work outside the classroom and write and present reports on this work. They also meet in class in changing groups with short-term authentic learning assignments and give presentations on their group work.


 Let us start with the assumption that the original intent of case study work includes [Bonoma, 1989]:

 1. Convey content in a memorable way.

 2. Help students to acquire analytical and creative skills.

 3. Help students to increase their ability to participate effectively in case discussions.

 The purpose of applying Authentic Learning (AL) methods is to help students to accomplish everything listed above and to also gain experience in doing the following:

 1. Work independently of the skilled case discussion leader in analyzing published and original cases thoroughly and creatively.

 a) As individuals.

 b) As members of small teams.

 2. Give presentations.

 3. Gather information from various sources for writing original cases.

 4. Become adept at asking penetrating questions, in addition to answering someone elseÃ�ùs penetrating questions.

 Four Authentic Learning methods for achieving these desirable results are described below. They are: (1) Team Discussion and Presentation, (2) The Well-Structured Creative Case Analysis Method, (3) The Question and Answer Method and (4) The Original Case Study.


 Team discussion and presentation is where Authentic Learning breaks away from the widely-followed Harvard Business School tradition. Instead of putting (and keeping) the discussion-leading professor center-stage, the responsibility for analyzing the case is placed entirely on the shoulders of the students.

 The students come to class having read and analyzed the assigned case. The instructor randomly selects teams of students to discuss the case and to prepare a presentation of the case. The first team that is ready presents. Teams compete for the privilege of presenting when class contribution is a substantial part of the semester grade. The value of this approach is that students engage in teamwork and give presentations, both of which are valuable in the business world. Very importantly, through repeated experiences in case preparation, team-discussion and presentation, students develop and refine their ability to analyze a wide variety of cases without becoming dependent on the professor to lead them through the discussion.

2. THE WELL-STRUCTURED CREATIVE CASE ANALYSIS METHOD (See Chapter 1 for a detailed discussion of Strategic Creative Analysis)

 To assist students in productive analysis of the case, they need to learn a well-structured case analysis process that includes at least one brainstorming step for creating many alternatives. The value is that students learn a dependable process that they can apply effectively to the cases and to all goal-driven business and personal situations, without being being dependent on the skilled discussion-leading professor.

 A summary of a case preparation process derived from the classical strategic planning model is presented below.

 1. List the objectives of the company as presented in the case. Objectives are presented as desired outcomes usually stated with a verb in the infinitive, for example: to launch a new product, to increase sales, to enter a new market, to reduce expenses, and the like.

 2. Arrange the objectives hierarchically. To discover the Top Rank Objective (TRO) of the organization, select an objective (from the list prepared in Step 1) that appears to be the ultimate goal of all their efforts. Draw a rectangle and write in the objective you have chosen. Then ask: Why are they pursuing this objective? Look for an answer to this question only in the list you prepared for Step 1. If you find an answer to the question, draw another rectangle above the first rectangle and write in the higher ranking objective. Connect the rectangles with a vertical line. Ask Why are they pursuing this objective? about the new top objective and repeat the same steps. Keep asking Why and drawing and filling in boxes until you cannot find an answer to the Why question. The objective in the top rectangle at this point is the Top Rank Objective, or TRO.

 Ask: How are they pursuing this objective? to rank the objectives and strategies remaining on the list. Answers to the how? question are listed at lower levels.

 3. Discover the Problems (Weaknesses and Threats) and the Opportunities (Strengths and Auspicious Conditions) of the company with respect to the TRO, defined as follows:


 Weaknesses = attributes of the company harmful to achieving the TRO.

 Threats = outside conditions harmful to achieving the TRO.


 Strengths = attributes of the company helpful to achieving the TRO.

 Auspicious Conditions = outside conditions helpful to achieving the TRO.

 4. Decide whether the TRO is attainable, in view of the Problems and Opportunities. If it is, continue. If it is not, select a different TRO and repeat the P&O discovery, and then continue.

 5. Create many possible strategies based on the P&Os, by answering these questions many times: "How can the company: Stop its Weaknesses? Defend against its Threats? Use its Strengths? Exploit its Auspicious Conditions?"

 6. Develop several action programs for implementing the most attractive strategies, covering: benefits to the company from this program, actions required, responsible person(s), location(s), resources required, control system and contingency plans.

 7. Evaluate the action programs and select for implementation the programs that appear to be the most effective in achieving the Top Rank Objective.

 To help students to learn this technique, the teacher distributes detailed instructions with a sample case study and its analysis.


 For several class meetings, instead of assigning a case for reading before class, the instructor prepares a 3 to 4 page case that is not available to the students. The instructor "introduces" himself to the students by stating the role he (she) is playing for that class period. For example, the instructor might say "My name is Frank Anderson and I am the President of the Business Equipment Division." Students then ask questions to elicit the facts of the case from the instructor. Following the question period, the "Team Discussion and Presentation" process is used. The value is that students improve their question asking skills. The application to real life is that when the time comes for them to investigate real situations, prior to making recommendations, they will be better prepared for eliciting all the information they need for a proper analysis.


 Toward the end of the term, students are assigned to write and analyze an original case. Students interview local businesses and write reasonably detailed descriptions of the actual business situation. They present their cases and analyses to the class. The value is that in real life, they may be called upon to investigate and analyze real situations and this experience prepares them better for such work than if they had analyzed only cases written by someone else. Another value is that in preparing the original case, they may make valuable personal connections for future employment or entrepreneurial partnerships.


 Case study teaching patterned on the Harvard Business School model falls far short of realizing its potential value. The teacher does too much and the students do too little. Case study work prepares students much better to become productive in the real business world if they:

 1. Engage in student team discussions and presentations instead of being mere players in the teacherÃ�ùs orchestra,

 2. Develop proficiency in applying a structured goal-oriented and creative process that yields useful analyses without dependency on the discussion-leading teacher,

 3. Develop the ability to ask information-producing questions and

 4. Write and analyze original cases.

 Every suggestion offered in this paper is based on extensive development in the authorÃ�ùs classrooms, over a period of many years, with the help of thousands of students and managers. These methods are recommended without reservations to all case study teachers who want to prepare students to function effectively in the real business world.


 Adams, M., "Playing for Keeps," Successful Meetings, (August 1994), p. 48.

 Almaney, A.J.,  "Students' Attitudes Toward the Case Study Method," Interactive Teaching & Learning, H.E. Klein, ed., (WACRA®, 1997), pp. 71-79.

 Atlas, J., "The Million Dollar Diploma," New Yorker, (July 19, 1999), pp. 42-51.

 Bonoma, T.V., Learning by the Case Method in Marketing, Case No. 9-590-008, (Harvard Business School Publishing, 1989).

 Cronin, J.C., "Four Misconceptions about Authentic Learning," Educational Leadership, (July 1993), p. 78.

 Christensen, C.R., D. A. Garvin and A. Sweet, eds., Education for Judgment, The Artistry of Discussion Leadership, (Harvard Business School Press, 1991).

 Cunningham, A.C., "Developing Marketing Professionals: What Can Business Schools Learn?" Journal of Marketing Education, (Fall, 1995), pp. 3-9.

 Fransson, M.C. and R. Chase, "Role Plays as A Method of Teaching Marketing Cases," Interactive Teaching & the Multi-Media Revolution, H.E. Klein, ed. (WACRA®, 1998), pp. 251 -260.

 Gordon, R.,"Balancing Real-World Problems with Real-World Results," Phi Delta Kappan, (May 1998), pp. 390-393.

 Hammond, J.S., Learning by the Case Method , Case No. 9-376-241, (Harvard Business School Publishing, 1987).

 Lamb, C.W., S.H. Shipp and W.C. Moncrief, "Integrating Skills and Content Knowledge in the Marketing Curriculum," Journal of Marketing Education, (Fall, 1995) pp. 10-19.

 Nelson, M., "The Art of Case Teaching: A Literature Review," Interactive Teaching & Learning, H.E. Klein, ed., (WACRA®, 1997), pp. 103-116.

 Ricks, D., "Two Lies Trainers Live By," Training, (November 1994), p. 82.

 Ricks, D., "How Are Your Experiential Components Working?" Training, (January 1997), p. 138.

 Shapiro, B., An Introduction to Cases, Case No. 9-584-097, (Harvard Business School Publishing, 1988.)

 Shipp, S., C.W. Lamb, and M.P. Mokwa, "Developing and Enhancing Students' Skills: Written and Oral Communication, Intuition, Creativity and Computer Usage," Marketing Education Review, (Fall 1993), pp. 2-8.

 Stepien, W. and S. Gallagher . "Problem-based Learning: as Authentic as it Gets," Educational Leadership, (July, 1993), 4.


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This page was originally posted: 8/16/2005; 8:42:18 AM.
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