Fostering Active Learning with Case-based Learning Approach

What is Case-based Learning?

Case-based learning (CBL) is “an established approach used across disciplines where students apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios, promoting higher-levels of cognition” (The Yale Center for Teaching and Learning). CBL believes that students could draw upon their prior knowledge to make contribution to their learning, which also reflects the constructivism theory that learners learn best when they gain knowledge through exploration and active learning. Therefore this approach is regarded as a student-centred, active learning strategy. In a typical CBL classroom, students would work in groups on case studies, discussing and applying learning to their practice, including critical thinking and problem-solving skills. As facilitators, teachers play a vital role in facilitating the case discussion, overseeing students' learning, encouraging them to be more analytical and assessing their performance.   

What is a Case?  

A case tells a real and engaging story and raises a thought-provoking issue. A case usually has elements of conflict and lacks an obvious or clear-cut right answer. With these features of a case, you may ask, “How can we find a case?” Real-world problems are good sources of cases. They could be local or global news. Student-identified or generated issues could also be used for case-based discussions which students would find them more resonate to them.  

Why CBL?  

CBL has been broadly received for its multiple benefits to students. John Foran (2001), a professor of sociology whose case study teaching has received various awards, shared that the goals of using CBL in his class were to “develop critical thinking skills, learning through decision-making and role-playing situations; develop confidence in defining, confronting, analysing, and solving problems through interactive discussions; and exercising and developing skills in public speaking.” What motivates students and brings them to participate in the discussion in CBL is that most cases are based on realistic problems, and the use of cases in the classroom makes subject matter more relevant.  

How does CBL take place in your classroom? 

Let's look at how CBL could be taken place in a Cultural Studies class, as an example. Teachers could use the controversial news in UK concerning the censorship of a Victorian masterpiece at Manchester Art Gallery as a case for students to discuss the issue of gender and feminism in the visual culture. First, students would work in groups and attempt to discuss the issue using critical thinking. The student-centred discussion allows students to integrate their previous learnt concepts or cross-disciplinary knowledge while exploring the case. The teacher helps facilitate group discussion by asking higher-order thinking questions, such as “why”, “why couldn't”, “how” and “what if”. The teacher should not lecture or dominate the discussion, but encourage active participation by students in their own learning. A good case discussion ties the day's discussion to what has been learnt in previous classes and lays the groundwork for coming lessons.

CBL is a vehicle of engagement for students' participation, and brings an environment whereby students apply their critical thinking to construct knowledge. Would you consider using CBL approach to give your students a vicarious learning experience? 


Foran, J. (2001). The case method and the interactive classroom. Thought and Action, 19(1), 41-50. 

The Yale Center for Teaching and Learning. (2018). Case-Based Learning. Retrieved February 11, 2018, from 

Warwick Medical School. (2017). Case Based Learning. Retrieved February 11, 2018, from 



案例式學習是「一個發展成熟、跨學科的教學法,當中學生把知識應用於現實的情況,從而提高認知水平」(The Yale Center for Teaching and Learning)(譯本:教學中心;原文請參考英文版本)。案例式學習深信學生可以利用他們的已有知識打造學習,這也反映了建構主義所主張的學說-最有效吸收知識的方法是通過探究和主動學習。因此,這種方法被認為是一種以學生為中心的主動學習策略。在一個典型的案例式學習課堂上,學生以個案研究的形式進行小組討論,並實踐所學,包括批判性思維和解決問題的能力。教師作為促導者,在推動個案討論、敦促學生學習,鼓勵他們分析和評估他們表現這些方面都發揮著關鍵的作用。 




案例式學習對學生的裨益深得認同。精於以案例教學並獲得多個獎項的社會學教授John Foran(2001)認為,在課堂上使用案例式學習的目的是「培養學生批判性思維,通過決策和角色扮演的情境學習;透過互動討論建立學生對介定、正視、分析和解決問題的信心;以及鍛煉學生在公開演講的技巧(譯本:教學中心;原文請參考英文版本)。」學生之所以積極參與個案討論,是因為大多數的案例均取材自現實生活,令教學內容與學生息息相關。 





Foran, J. (2001). The case method and the interactive classroom. Thought and Action, 19(1), 41-50.

The Yale Center for Teaching and Learning. (2018). Case-Based Learning. Retrieved February 11, 2018, from 

Warwick Medical School. (2017). Case Based Learning. Retrieved February 11, 2018, from