We have already reached the final installment of this five-part series. In the previous installment we looked at story composition and the setting of questions as key points of case writing (second half). In this installment we will examine some key points on the facilitation methods used to ensure the effectiveness of case studies.
Success on the training day depends on careful preparations beforehand. The facilitator will guide the learners through the learning points, while listening to the various views they put forward. We prepare for this in advance by rereading the case study materials multiple times, simulating likely responses to questions, and forming a general image of whiteboard writing and other activities. If you summarize this work into teaching notes, it will also help you to organize future training courses.
Because the content of case studies relates to past events, we need to ensure that the information used in the training is always up to date. We do this by summarizing information obtained through Internet searches and interviews with the people involved into on-screen presentations, so that we can explain this on the training day as supplementary material on the case study.
We also recommend that you obtain information about the learners prior to the training. If we are aware of each learner’s position and work area, we will be better able to elicit views from different perspectives during the discussions. For example, in a discussion about new business, people in business divisions will generally offer many views about the pursuit of new business, while those in corporate divisions will have different viewpoints that will tend to focus on the risks. Similarly, managers will have different perspectives from non-managers. By eliciting different views, the facilitator encourages the learners to think about the backgrounds and the intentions of those who hold those views, and to consider what is best for the organization as a whole. One of the benefits of case studies is their potential to make people aware of new ways of thinking through the different views expressed during discussions. An effective way to do that is to plan ahead with respect to which learner to talk to when bringing up topics based on the attributes of the respective learners.
It is important to begin the training by ensuring that learners understand the significance of their active participation in the program. This can best be achieved by introducing the skills that will be developed through the case studies (e.g., insight, adaptability, the capacity for theoretical judgment), and explaining ways to discuss topics effectively. The methods recommended by Mitsui & Co. HRD Institute include the use of dialogue to deepen learning, as advocated by Otto Scharmer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in his Theory U. We can also enhance the quality of discussions by first ensuring that learners have all reached the same level of understanding on the case they are about to study. Specifically, we can smooth the path by preparing slides that summarize the content of the case study and by using these slides to explain the content before the discussion begins.
Because the learners will be nervous at the start of the discussion, we need to break the ice by asking simple questions. At Mitsui & Co. HRD Institute, we do this by asking Yes/No questions to the entire class.
When considering the allocation of time for the training program, we should probably apply the 90/20/8 rule. Experts say that the amount of time for which people can typically maintain their concentration is 90 minutes, so we provide a refreshment break at least once every 90 minutes. They also say that the normal duration for which adults can listen as they remember speech is 20 minutes, so we need to divide each session into 20-minute segments. In addition, human beings appear to lose interest if their brains remain in a passive state continuously for 10 minutes. For this reason, we need to devise ways to prevent the learners from becoming bored by introducing changes every eight minutes during lectures and explanations, when learners tend to become passive. Outlined below is a curriculum structure based on an actual case study.
1. Orientation (discussion method, alignment of direction, etc.): 8 minutes
2. Discussion: 20 minutes
3. Explanation: 8 minutes
Punctuated by interactive exchanges with and among the learners
Thereafter Steps 2 and 3 are repeated according to the number of questions.
The use of contrasting intervals, such as videos, is a useful way to prevent the learners from losing
The Role of the Facilitator
The first role of the facilitator in relation to the case study is to elicit hypotheses and opinions from the learners through the content of the case study. According to the experiential learning theory, adults learn by extracting lessons from experience through introspection and applying them to a new situation. This cycle also applies to case studies. The facilitator leads the entire class in the discussion by asking questions so that the learners can discover lessons in the case study. During this process, the facilitator needs to be aware that there are no absolutely correct answers to the questions.
One of the key points highlighted in the third installment about case study writing (first half) was that the case method assumes that only the facts will be presented, without any reference to the subjective views or theories of the writer, and that the reader will think about the case from the perspectives of those involved, based on these facts. It is therefore important that the facilitator listens to each view put forward without negating any of them. The purpose of case studies is to enable people to make discoveries from different viewpoints. For that reason, it is especially important to create an environment in which the learners feel that they can express their views freely.
When different opinions are expressed, the facilitator can deepen the discussion, as well as the awareness of the learners, by asking questions that explore the deeper aspects of the background of those views and the intentions of those who offered them. Another task of the facilitator is to make the learners think about how the lessons they learn can be applied to actual work situations, so the questions asked should be designed to encourage the learners to put their learning results into practice. For example, if a learner expresses the view that pull leadership is necessary, the facilitator should ask about the specific situations in which that type of leadership is effective, thereby encouraging the learners to think about situations other than that under discussion, and to imagine the use of that concept in actual work situations. An important part of the facilitator’s role is to ask questions that encourage the learners to put what they have learned into practice.
One effective way to facilitate the discussion is by simulating various response patterns in advance. It is especially important to keep the learning points in mind. While leading the discussion, you should remain focused on the points that you want the learners to take away from the case study, so that you can link the discussion to the learning points after all views have been expressed. Learners will find your explanations more convincing if you can quote relevant academic theories. You should prepare additional slides for use as required.
The key role for the facilitator is to elicit a variety of views from the learners, so that they can make many discoveries through lively discussion. You should therefore make deliberate efforts to encourage all learners to express their views. Discussions tend to be dominated by a few speakers. An important way to enliven discussions in such case is “cold calling,” which involves deliberately targeting questions to the quiet learners who do not offer opinions. However, you will need to ensure that such questions are easy to answer. A useful tip concerning the positioning of your eye line as facilitator is to move your focus through a “Z” pattern, from the left rear of the room to the right rear, then to the front. Experts say that this will allow you to scan the entire room.
During the five installments in this series, we have looked at the key points of case studies. Many of you may think that case study creation is a difficult process that takes both time and money. However, the task can be surprisingly easy if you follow this framework. Your productivity will improve as you run more sessions and accumulate experience. Instead of worrying, just do it.
The content of this series is based on case studies within Mitsui & Co. HRD Institute. We are also still in the process of learning, so please view this information as suggestions. Thank you for reading. We look forward to meeting you someday.