Marie-Hélène Budworth

Associate Professor of Human Resource Management, specializing in learning, development & motivation.

Marie-Hélène Budworth

Storytelling & Case Studies

April 5th, 2012 · No Comments · Uncategorized

I am still thinking a lot about storytelling as a way to present material.  Thanks to those of you who read my earlier piece on reporting research through creative non-fiction writing.  I appreciated the comments I received on the site and by email.  More recently, I have considering the use of storytelling as a tool for teaching. 

Case studies are incredibly popular right now in business classrooms.  Most management programs have some case study focus and others a completely dominated by this method (e.g., Ivey at Western & Harvard).  It is engaging and effective but it is not without criticism. 

One of the biggest limitations of the case method from a pedagogical point of view is that it assumes foundational knowledge in the content area.  Case study learning is all about critical thinking and problem solving.  But how can you think critically about a topic unless you have a handle on the concepts and theories that underly the discipline.  One might argue that we can assign readings that rely the important concepts but that approach is limited.  We cannot assume that everyone will enter the classroom with enough of an understanding about the concepts in order to participate meaningfully in a case discussion.    So this is where storytelling comes in. 

Adults prefer to learn in a way that embeds the information in some kind of familiar context.  This is in contrast to children who have a high tolerance for the abstract.  Consider calculus, a young person will learn how to differentiate an equation for the sake of differentiation but an adult needs to know why!?  (You will not find the answer to that question in this Blog).  Storytelling presents an opportunity to connect theory to real life examples.  We can learn about theories of motivation and theories of learning through rich stories about the human experience.  We can share the principles of research methodology and research evidence through engaging narrative.  This approach is consistent with the case method.  The experience of hearing a story is similar to the experience of solving a case.  This similarity would allow an instructor to build a consistent set of materials that feels cohesive and moves in an obvious way from learning to application.  The storytelling is a way to gain exposure to the concepts and the cases are there to deepen the learning.

I would love to attend a class where my instructor moves from storyteller to facilitator.  What are your thoughts?


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