Harvard Business School Classroom

The case study method has long been an essential part of the Harvard Business School (HBS) experience. The method begins with students analyzing business stories and developing solutions that they advocate for in front of their classmates. Proponents of this style of teaching believe it is the most effective way to teach students about leadership and management, as well as to hone their decision-making and presentation skills. The case method has become so popular that B schools around the world are actually paying Harvard to have access to its casebooks. In 2020, HBS sold over 15 million cases.

“The cases expose students to real dilemmas and business decisions,” writes Nitin Nohria, former dean of Harvard Business School. harvard business review. “The cases teach students to quickly assess business problems while taking into account the larger organizational, industrial and societal context. Students remember concepts better when presented in a case, just as people remember words better when used in context. The cases teach students how to apply theory in practice and how to induce theory from practice. The case method cultivates the capacity for critical analysis, judgment, decision-making and action.

This year marks the centenary of Harvard’s case study method. Harvard Crimson recently delved into the history of the method and asked students and faculty to point out what it means to them.


The first HBS case was written in 1921 by HBS graduate Clinton P. Biddle just 13 years after the school was founded, according to the crimson. At the time, HBS intended to find the most effective way to teach students about business, leadership, and management.

Experts say the case study method was linked to similar approaches developed by law and medical schools.

“The idea that you can inductively learn from problems and then generalize – this idea had already started in law and maybe even in medicine,” says VG Narayanan, president of the MBA Elective Curriculum – or second year program – and professor of HBS. the Crimson. “The Business School stood on the shoulders of giants.


One of the important aspects of the case study method is cold calling, where a teacher calls a random student and asks them to contribute to the class discussion.

While phone canvassing may seem overwhelming to some students, HBS professor Aiyesha Dey says others find it genuinely useful.

“So when you cold call, I’ve often heard students say, you know, ‘I’m glad you called me because I wasn’t going to raise your hand, and because you called me. , the spotlight was on me. , and I had to speak and it made me think, and I was very happy to have been able to contribute, ”she told the crimson.


Many call the case study method one of the most effective ways to learn precisely because it offers the perfect level of versatility.

“It’s effective because it uses a narrative approach that promotes problem solving and critical analysis while genuinely engaging students,” said Kevin M. Bonney, professor at New York University. Crimson.

HBS professor Rebecca A. Karp says the method is particularly useful for teaching students how to form an argument using evidence-based analysis.

“As a student, it really forces you to support your point of view,” she told the crimson. “So you can’t just have an opinion willy-nilly, like you have to use the facts of the case to get your point across. And that’s such an important lesson to learn in the business world.

For many students, the effectiveness of the case study method lies in the foundation it establishes for real-world success.

“None of us are going to take jobs that are very specific and where we know everything we’re supposed to do,” said Ilana R. Springer, second year MBA student at HBS. Crimson. “It’s super important to learn all the tactical skills in the context of a larger ecosystem, and that’s what they teach us to do.”

Sources: Harvard Crimson, harvard business review

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