Case based learning

The lecturer who added this teaching method to teachEUR was inspired at Harvard to apply the famous 'case study method' to his history teaching. 

Students first work on a case from the real world themselves and then meet to discuss it from various perspectives. In this way they learn to disagree with each other. 

Activity goal
Brainstorm | Exchange knowledge | Practice skills | Recap / Summarize | Reflect
In class | Pre class
Hybrid | Offline | Online
> 60 minutes
Group size
Small | Medium

MS Teams, Zoom

We are assuming here that the method is used during a course of lectures. For inspiration, read the practical examples in the download section below.

Step 1

Think up a framework for the series of cases you are going to address. 

  • What (moral) principles form the basis and what literature will you offer? The idea is that the groups describe how they use the principles as a starting point for the rest of the cases. 
  • What cases will you address in the light of these principles?

Consider using the '1. Case Plan Template' and the examples in the Download section for your preparations.

Step 2

Develop the cases (max. 1 A4). Use complex problems from the real world and think up one moral question for each case. In practice, we have learned that formulating a good question is the biggest challenge of this teaching method. For example "Who may represent our country? Migration, Citizenship and Identity at the FIFA-World Cup 1930-2018". This case plus more examples are present in the download section. 

A good template to build your case is the download '2. Case study template'.

Step 3

Prepare the first lecture:

  • Consider how you will allocate the groups for the lectures and organise that in Canvas.
  • Address the (moral) principles based on the literature listed and explain the first assignment (example in downloads)
  • Explain the teaching method for the coming weeks. An example is included in the Variations, tips & tricks section. 

Step 4

Prepare next lectures. Introduce each case with a lecture, select relevant literature, etc. 

Step 5

Prepare case discussion. Every week, each group hands in the developed case that forms the basis for the discussion. The subsequent discussion preferably takes place in each group. Make sure that you have several questions or positions ready to keep the discussion going if necessary. 

Step 6

At the end of the course, students write their own evaluation. An example is also available in the download section

This teaching method is a contribution by prof. dr. Gijsbert Oonk (ESHCC). After studying at Harvard Business School, he wanted to apply the case study method to his teaching in history and social sciences. To be able to develop this teaching method sustainably, he applied for a CLI Fellowship and, together with Gijs van Campenhout, he created a course and put it into practice. This course called "Utopia for Beginners: Teaching Global Challenges through Local Cases" is about forming an opinion as a process; probing and questioning, learning to disagree with each other instead of being right. Skills that will help students when coping with problems while working as a manager, government official or responsible citizen.

The first lecture explains working with the case method and provides a basis for all cases to follow in subsequent weeks. In this case, students received an explanation of the moral principles of justice (libertarian, community and an interim form) based on 6 articles. They were then asked to write the constitution of their utopia. From the 2nd week, they were given a new case after each lecture and confronted with moral dilemmas, like:

  • Who can apply for citizenship? From former slaves in the 19th century to refugees in 21th century.
  • Has a conservative religious hotel owner the right to refuse a double bedroom to a married gay couple?

At the end of the course of lectures, the students wrote an evaluation. In their feedback, students said that this way of working taught them the importance of listening to each other's arguments, about the role of (social) media in forming an opinion and how polarised public debate currently is. Students also said that working with a self-written constitution helped them not to think based on their own convictions and prejudices. In fact, it created a safe setting and invited them to be creative and take a completely different position. Examples of cases, the starting assignment of writing a constitution and the self assessment can be found in the download section below. 

Furthermore Oonk and Van Campenhout developed extensive teaching notes. If you are part of the EUR's teaching staff and want to give case based learning a try, you can request them by sending an e-mail to

For these lectures, the week was planned as follows:

  • Monday: lecture and hand out the case (whole group of around 80 people)
  • Tuesday to Thursday: develop and submit case individually or in small groups
  • Friday: discuss case in tutor groups of around 20 students

Consider the tools and materials mentioned here as suggestions. In many cases it’s possible to use alternative tools. Please turn to the Learning & Innovation team of your faculty (EUR or Erasmus MC) first to see which online and offline tools are available and how to apply them. 

You can use this teaching method both offline and online. Use MS Teams or Zoom for online. 

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