November 5, 2010 by Jeff Hurt
Two words that cause my heart to sink: Case Studies.
Most of the case studies I’ve seen are serious and dull as dirt. They read like a dry, long instructional booklet: illogical, nonsensical and technical. They are void of human life. Many are full of self promotion marketing spin with no educational benefit to the reader.
In theory, case studies are good learning tools. In practice, most don’t hold the attention of readers.
Case studies are written accounts of a real or fabricated incident. Case studies ask participants to put themselves in the problem at hand. They provide enough information and details so that participants can analyze, evaluate and prepare potential solutions.
Case studies make it is easier for participants to be open to new skills, taking risks and making mistakes than within their own real-life. They don’t run the risk of failing in real life or facing negative consequences.
Ultimately, case studies promote communication, problem solving and higher level thinking skills.
Case studies benefit education sessions by providing participants an opportunity to:
Stories have universal appeal and offer readers vicarious adventures. Case studies that use a narrative grab attention.
Every case study could use a dose of humor. Give your characters quirky names like Iva Problem or Don Ready. Pilgrim Progress author John Bunyan used this principle well.
Don’t hold back on compelling conversations. Remember the dialogue of some of your childhood stories?
Let your case study characters sound the way people really talk.
Don’t use general terms. Use specific, realistic details, nicknames and slang common to the situation. Provide notes defining acronyms and slang for novices.
Be descriptive with vivid, realistic details. Describe sights, sounds and smells.
Avoid flashbacks that some successful writers use. Keep the story about the job related problem in sequence.
Include the information your participants need to understand the situation and answer questions.
The entire purpose of the case study is to get participants to solve a problem. End with several open-ended leading questions. Avoid yes-no questions. Shun trick questions.
While your case study probably won’t win a literary award, it will keep readers interested. Who knows, with the right story and dialogue, it may even rock their world.
What do you like or dislike about case studies? Share your insights in the comments section.
Filed Under: Conference Education
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