Why do business schools use case studies

Harvard: Real experiences instead of case studies

So far, the Harvard Business School has mainly relied on the case study teaching method that it introduced in 1924. Today, MBA students still have to solve more than 500 case studies over the course of their two-year degree. That should change now. In the future, they should gain real experience.

While many business schools have long been sending their students to projects in other countries, advising start-ups or having business plans written, Harvard has so far stuck to its case study. This describes a real scenario from a company, based on which the students should decide which management decisions they would have made.

But the decision based solely on the paper situation and without contact with those involved is considered problematic, as many aspects are inevitably not taken into account. And of course the students do not find out whether the chosen decision would have been the right one in reality. Not to mention the lack of dealing with real people and their fears and fears.

FIELD (Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development) is set to change that, writes the Economist. The 900 MBA students who started their studies at Harvard this summer act as guinea pigs. The idea came from Nitin Nohria, who joined Harvard as the new Dean in July 2010. And if the experiment is successful, the FIELD method will soon be used on an equal footing with the case studies. So far, the application of the management knowledge acquired has been limited to the internship between the two academic years.

There are now three new elements in the first year of study. First: exercises for team building (model are exercises from the US Army). Second: one-week work placements at one of 140 companies in eleven countries. Third, start a small business in eight weeks with $ 3000 seed capital. What is offered in the second year of study is still open.

There is great skepticism as to whether a week's work will actually bring anything. And whether starting a small business brings more than just one of the usual business plan competitions. Now you want to experiment for a few years whether the new approach is any good. Only then will it be decided whether Harvard students will acquire their management skills through learning by doing or whether they will continue to solve case studies.



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About Bärbel Schwertfeger

Bärbel Schwertfeger is a graduate psychologist and has been working as a freelance journalist in the field of management, further training and personnel development since 1985.