Case-based learning (CBL) is an instructional design model that uses factually-based, complex problems written in a narrative style. Using methods of inquiry, the class (small or large groups) explores a scenario presented to them.
What is Case-Based Learning?
Professional practice is integrated with theoretical information making the content directly relevant to the students as professionals-in-training and provides them with a framework that makes immediate sense in a real context. Several faculties of health science in Australia are currently using CBL in this ‘post’ PBL era including the Universities of Adelaide, Tasmania and Flinders University.
How do CBL and PBL differ?
Generally speaking CBL, in the Health Science context, is centred on a specific patient’s case history. Problem-based learning (PBL) is more generally based on an issue: it can be a medical condition, a public health concern, or anything that presents issues for investigation. See Table 1 below.
Benefits of CBL
The main advantages of CBL are that students:
(i) trigger and acquire knowledge when they analyse the case;
(ii) actively discuss their learning and articulate understanding through discussion with peers;
(iii) develop analytical and creative skills;
(iv) develop ways of organising and understanding complex situations;
(v) establish explicit links between theoretical work and practice in the profession or workplace; and
(vi) develop attitudes appropriate to the workforce and profession. The context of the case may also aid recall when the case is encountered later in the curriculum or in practice.
How can CBL be used in the classroom?
Cases can be used as the catalyst for class discussions from small groups and in large group lectures. In very large classes cases could be a short introductory experience that lead into additional learning experiences in a laboratory or tutorial. In smaller classes mini-cases may be used. Designed to be used in a single class meeting, their content is usually tightly focused. Useful for introducing and grounding a new topic in lectures, for pre-assessing student knowledge, for helping students apply concepts, for introducing practical applications in lab settings, or as a pre-activity exercise designed to make the work more meaningful. In virtual classes cases are introduced electronically with student groups working together online.
Where to start
As with all teaching methods, the first step is to determine the learning objectives or outcomes of a session/unit: What is the content that needs to be covered and what are the outcomes the students need to achieve? Cases themselves do not teach content knowledge and skills, but they do link them directly to applications. To find out more about Case Based Learning refer to the resources below which have been used to develop this short introductory article or refer to the ‘Talking about Teaching’ series for second semester 2009, published under ‘Calendar of events’ on page 4.
Case-Based & Problem-Based Teaching & Learning University of Southern California accessed on 2nd June 2009 at http://www.usc.edu/programs/cet/resources/casebased/
Tarnik, A. Revival of the case method: a way to retain student-centred learning in a post PBL era. Medical Teacher. 2007; 29 e32-36.
A/Prof. Sandra Carr