One way to help trainees learn analytical and problem solving skills is by presenting a story (called a case) about people in an organization who are facing a problem or decision. Cases may be faced on actual events involving real people in an organization, or they can be fictional. Business case studies are included in college text books and courses in management, public administration, law, sociology, and similar subjects. They are increasingly available using video and other media. While cases vary in complexity and detail, trainees should be given enough information to analyze the situation and recommend their own solutions. In solving the problem, the trainees are generally required to use a rational problem-solving process that includes the following steps:
- Restating important facts.
- Drawing inferences from the facts.
- Stating the problem or problems.
- Developing alternative solutions and then stating consequences of each.
- Determining and supporting a course of action.
Proponents of the case study method argue that this form of problem solving within a management setting offers illustrations of the concepts employees are respected to learn and use, improves communications skills, and facilities the linking between theory and practice. Proponents also claim that cases allow participants discuss, share, and debate the merits of different inferences, problems, and alternative courses of action. Such insight can help employees to develop better analytical skills and improve their ability to integrate new information.
A business case study can present a real-life situation, which lets trainees to consider what they would do. It can present a wide variety of skills in which applying knowledge is important. It helps in finding number of alternative solutions suggested by the participants for the problems included in the case. Cases may be difficult to prepare and time-consuming to discuss. The trainer must be creative and very skilled at leading discussions, making points, and keeping trainees on track. All participants should take active part for the success of case study. This method is very helpful for effective training of the participants to develop the practice of taking correct decisions on the basis of analysis of different cases. The merits and demerits of this method should be considered for successful conduct of the training programme with required previous arrangements.
The case study method also has vigorous critics who argue that it can cause group think, focuses too much on the past, limits the teaching role of the trainer, reduces the learner’s ability to draw generalizations, reinforces passively on the part of the learner, and promotes the quantity of interaction among participants at the expense of the quality of interaction. Andrews and Noel claim that cases often lack realistic complexity and a sense of immediacy, and inhabit development of the ability to collect and distill information. In addition, trainees may get caught up in the details of the situation, at the expense of focusing on the larger issues and concepts they are trying to learn.
To overcome these limitations of case study training method, the trainer should make expectations clear and provide guidance when needed. In addition, the trainer must effectively guide the discussion portion of the case study to ensure trainees have an opportunity to explore differing assumptions and positions they have taken and the rationale for what constitutes effective responses to the case. The point in analyzing business cases is not to find the “right” solution, but to be able to provide a reasoned and logical rationale for developing a course of action. Variations in the case study method have also been proposed. One such variation, called a living case, has trainees analyze a problem they and their organization are currently facing.