Short Case Studies
Caselets, or short cases, are increasingly used as teaching aids, both in B-Schools and in executive education programs. Being brief and focused on a specific topic, a caselet is a useful supplement to a lecture. The session plan for a B-School course is likely to be more effective when there is a balanced mix of cases and caselets, along with other pedagogical tools.
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A caselet is a shorter version of a case study, generally two to three pages in length. Caselets are similar to case studies in that they may either describe a sequence of events or put forth an issue or problem that requires decision making. The use of caselets is gaining popularity as a pedagogical tool in management teaching and executive education.
The basic objective of a caselet is to allow the learner to apply ideas and insights from theory to the real-life issues and problems contained in the caselet. This helps the learner obtain a deeper understanding of all the relevant factors in a particular problem situation as well as gain insights into the finer nuances of a topic in a particular field of management. The different ways in which caselets aid the learning process are described below.
Caselets are an important teaching aid for the faculty to adapt the teaching style to the needs of the situation. While discussing the topic of management teaching and learning, experts distinguish between the 'Sage on the Stage' approach and the 'Guide on the Side' approach. Comprehensive cases are quite useful while following the 'Guide on the Side' approach of facilitating a collective learning experience. However, a faculty member may choose the 'Sage on the Stage' approach due to topic-specific, class-specific, or faculty-specific factors. In such situations, comprehensive cases can be replaced with caselets to help the learner in applying the concepts gathered from the lectures. In short, while cases may be used as a substitute for lectures, caselets may be used as a supplement to lectures.
Logic and Opinion vs. Facts
A discussion leading to managerial decision-making is based on the interplay of facts, logic, and opinion. A comprehensive case study encourages the learner to sift through the information provided and identify the relevant facts, and then use logic and opinion to arrive at a set of decisions. A caselet, being brief and focused on the core issue, usually provides only the relevant facts. This forces the learner to add value during the case analysis by logically arguing his/her position based on stated opinions, rather then spend time in identifying and summarizing the relevant facts. However, it should also be made very clear to the learners that in real life, such a precise statement of a problem would be an exception rather than the rule.
Caselets are also useful in comparative study as the faculty can give a set of caselets on a particular topic or industry to illustrate the variations in approaches adopted by different organizations. For instance, a set of three caselets on segmentation could cover three different sectors – consumer goods, industrial products, and services.
Specificity and Timeliness
A caselet helps the student to relate abstract models and theories to concrete situations and practical experience, and this makes the job of a faculty in the classroom easier. Due to its specificity, the faculty can lead the students to focus on narrow issues within the topic – for example, in a marketing class, the use of buzz marketing as a promotional tool. Due to its smaller size, a caselet does not eat into the classroom schedule or faculty's time and yet accelerates the learning process. Another advantage that the caselet offers is its ease of development. To develop a caselet for classroom discussion, the faculty need not spend much time due to its focused approach and brevity. For instance, if a faculty member intends to focus only on the finer nuances of the bidding process in e-procurement, a caselet can be quickly developed on reverse auctions in the steel industry.
Cases and Caselets: A Portfolio Approach
The session plan for a B-School course is likely to be more effective when there is a balanced mix of cases and caselets. Let us say an elective course on Sales and Distribution Management has four modules, – Introduction to Sales and Distribution, Planning and Organizing the Sales Effort, Distribution and Channel Control, and Channel Institutions and Future Trends. For each module, the session plan may include one or two cases, and about three caselets.
Guest Lectures and Special Situations
There would be occasions where the audience in the classroom is quite heterogeneous, with learners of varying academic/ industry backgrounds with different levels of competence and exposure to various teaching methodologies. Or, the faculty may not have sufficient familiarity with the audience, as in the case of a guest lecture. In such situations, a comprehensive case study may not be able to achieve the intended results. Caselets are a convenient teaching aid in such special situations.
When a faculty member or trainer conducts executive education programs, there is a need to condense the entire learning experience into the limited time available. Moreover, there may be a need to customize the teaching aids, keeping in mind the target audience. Caselets are quite suited to fulfill these requirements. Also, a caselet can be innovatively used as an ice-breaker at the beginning of the program, achieving the dual objectives of 'working in a group' and 'sensitization to the broader theme of the program'.
It is important to realize that the teaching approach has to be adapted to the situation under consideration, and that the faculty should use a mix of teaching aids to suitably tailor a course or a training session for the learner's benefit. Variations in the case method of teaching should be explored and utilized more widely if they lead to a better learning experience for the student. The use of caselets is one such attempt to broaden the horizons of the case method.