Are online case studies different?

Many of you have sent me questions asking about online case studies. You wonder if they or the quality of learning are different. I hope this post answers those questions.

How they are different. Case studies rely on interaction and discussion. Since online learning uses different communication tools, you can expect the interaction to be different. Relying on Wikis or discussion boards, there can be a lag time between responses. This is not always bad, because this lag can encourage deeper thinking and higher quality discussions. Of course you can choose to require video teleconferencing also. This mimics face-to-face, without as much of the temptation for extra-curricular social activities. So again, this can be a boon.

What you need to stress is that there is a discursive process to negotiate and formulate the answer product of the case study, and let your students know that this is an important factor in their learning.

Should it be synchronous or asynchronous? This really doesn’t matter for learner performance. There are characteristics of each that certain learners will prefer.

Real Time Asynchronous
Immediate feedback

Similar to in class

Requires an agreed on schedule

Less time spent on task

Free to work anytime

Communication is slower and takes more time

Provides scheduling flexibility

Increasing student preference

Should I structure the learning differently? Online case studies usually give more content up front. In a classroom information can be meted out to the student as they work the case. This can be done online if you build a branched scenario from the case. But this is a time intensive effort.

Other different things to structure your case study for online: Give the learner autonomy, give very clear directions and provide them a method for asking timely questions.

Is implementing online case studies different? From my experience, yes- because of tools and timing. The communication tools for online learning are different, and some learners may not be adjusted to typing their thoughts wrather than speaking them. Also, the instructional tools are different. Some case studies will be media intensive, while others are text intensive. One trick for larger case studies is to scaffold or chunk the information across several modules.

Are there best practices? Some of the best practices I have run across are Chickering and Gameson’s 7 Principles of Good Practice.

  1. Encourage contact between the students and faculty
  2. Encourage collaboration
  3. Encourage active learning
  4. Give prompt feedback and consistent communications
  5. Emphasis time on task
  6. Communicate high expectations
  7. Respect diverse talent and ways of learning

I hope this post has cleared up some of your questions about online case studies. Please let me know your thoughts!

Source: Sharon Watson and Jann Marie Sutton, Online: Does the Technology Matter? An Examination of the Effectiveness of Case Method Teaching. Journal of Management Education 2012 36: 802

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