How to use case studies in training programmes

17 July 2023

As a trainer, I often think about how to make my training sessions more interesting and useful.  

The purpose of a training course is to help trainees understand a concept that can be used in their field. For this, they require both theoretical and practical knowledge so they can apply the learning in real-life situations. 

Using case studies in training sessions is a great way to achieve this. They’re practical training tools, which actively engage trainees through descriptive, real-life and/or fictional situations. Crucially, they focus on how to solve a problem, rather than on the solution alone. 

They also offer alternative experiences, approaches and solutions to help broaden trainees’ knowledge and skills, e.g., teamwork, practical knowledge application and problem solving. 

Types of case studies 

Picking the right type of case study for your training programme is important. Here are some of the main types:

  • Descriptive case studies focus on explaining a particular situation or action. For example, it could be used to help trainees learn effective strategies.
  • Exploratory case studies explore the potential benefits and limitations of existing strategies or examine emerging trends or new phenomena.
  • Instrumental case studies focus on understanding a particular problem and then provide insights into a broader issue or problem.
  • Intrinsic case studies focus on a particular case and then generalise the findings to other scenarios.
  • Collective case studies examine a group of related cases to gain insights into broader phenomena.

How to use pre-existing case studies

All the case studies that you provide should include sufficient information so the trainees can develop solutions and apply them to similar scenarios. 

The length of the training course will affect how you integrate the case studies. 

Some effective ways to successfully use case studies in your training programmes include the following:

  • Provide a brief, written scenario and include questions that trainees can evaluate themselves. This will enable them to apply their learning immediately and identify options for solving the problem.
  • Show short videos that present specific problems/scenarios and ask the trainees to develop role-plays based on them to analyse the problems objectively.
  • Provide a written scenario, e.g., addressing local climate change issues, and accompanying data and ask trainees to analyse and present their understanding of the issues in groups.
  • Make a presentation, supported by visual aids. Provide practical examples of the theory or techniques covered and follow up with a question-and-answer session (structured or unstructured).
  • Ask trainees to read a case study independently and then have a whole-group discussion about the challenges and the possible solutions.
  • Get the trainees to complete individual/group assignments on a case study. Provide a worksheet and get them to write/present their analysis, including their recommendations/solutions.
  • Use several case studies so the trainees can the identify similarities and differences among them.
  • Case studies can also be provided as reading materials for trainees to take home to test their knowledge and skills without worrying about marks.

Helping your trainees write their own case studies

In longer training courses you could even give the trainees a scenario and get them to develop their own case studies on it. 

To support them with this you could give them a list of steps as a framework, like the following:

  1. Read the scenario and highlight relevant facts and underline the key problems. 
  2. Identify between two and five key problems. For each, answer the following questions: Why does the problem exist? What’s its impact? Who’s responsible for it?
  3. Review the source documents, have discussions or conduct more research to find possible solutions to each problem/the changes required.
  4. Choose the best solution, making sure it’s realistic and that the supporting evidence is strong. Identify the pros and cons of your chosen solution.

You could also give them a more detailed template, providing a clear structure for developing their own case studies. This could provide guidance and prompts for writing the following sections: introduction, background, evaluation, recommendations and conclusions.

At the Public Affairs Centre (PAC), we train many government officers and decision-makers and our use of case studies has been well-received and beneficial. 

But the training strategies outlined above would be beneficial and effective in any training context.