Do Case Studies Make You An MBA?

MBA and cases are almost synonymous. B-Schools are characterized with loads of cases and pre-reads for each and every subject. A statement often used by the b-school professors is “We are just facilitators. The onus of learning is on you!” And the best tool used to further this cause is the case studies. While these are mostly Harvard cases of the highest quality, the learning actually depends on the way the course is structured by the professors. Let us look at a few types of case-based courses:

The All CP Course

In my opinion, this is the worst usage of case-based learning. There is a very heavy weightage to class participation. The rationale behind this is that the class can learn from each others’ opinions and analyses. In an ideal world, this might work. But to be very realistic, we humans are driven by incentive. When we know that our participation in class is going to fetch us marks, it is needless to explain what happens next. The lecture is reduced to 70 hands up in the air just waiting to open their mouth and blabber the first thing that comes to their mind. While some of the students might have some really good insights, these get lost in the voice of the crowd which is literally screaming for marks. The professor will eventually orchestrate the class to a solution he wants, often unrelated to everything that the class has contributed. These lectures rarely lead to any value addition in class. They make introverts into extroverts at best and logical thinkers into grade chasers at worst.

Cases Without CP

In these courses, the class discussion is led by the professor. Students are not given any grades for participating in class. However, if any student has anything valuable to add, then the professor always lets him. Many a times, the professor encourages the students to participate by cold-calling. However, since it is non-evaluative, if a student doesn’t know something, he usually ends up saying so rather than blabbering nonsense. This really filters out the unnecessary voices of the crowd and streamlines the learnings in the lecture. The success of this method is also largely dependent on the professor and his ability to structure the lectures. But if done correctly, this can be one of the best uses of the case-based method.

Self-Developed Cases

Although quite rare, there are some courses which ditch the 20-page Harvard cases altogether. These professors create 4-5 page cases themselves. These are sufficient to facilitate the entire class discussion and are extremely to the point and crisp in terms of what the course intends to teach. It is a rare skill to teach the same concepts using just 4 pages instead of 20 pages. If you find yourselves into any such course, then consider yourself blessed. In my opinion, this is the best use of the case method; partly because it is unconventional to the usual Harvard method. But the major reason why I love this method is because you end up spending more time analysing than reading. Isn’t that the reason we go to a B-school to in the first place?

So going back to the initial question, “Do cases make you an MBA?” The answer is perhaps. Cases by themselves can only add value as much as reading a good book can. The real differentiator is the professor. Although just a facilitator, the professor largely determines how much you get out of a course. It might be a bit of a stretch, but it can be said that the “Exceptional Professors make you an MBA”. The best way to support this statement is by asking ourselves, after 5 years what will we remember? The cases that we read? Or those genius professors who taught us?

Hence, when you choose your courses, always go by the professor. Not by the content of the course or the quality of the cases or the class timings. Go with the best professors and rarely can you ever go wrong with a course.

Amol Aranake

Chartered Accountant May 2016 IIM Bangalore PGP 2017-19