Active Learning In Virtual Environment/Case study

Activity: #in-class/short-term, #offline/long-term, #group-work, #critical-thinking, #needs-preparation


Case study is a practical activity that can be arranged as a one-class task or a long project. Case studies presume students to observe a real-life condition, such as a news article, video, event, etc. Typically, a list of questions students should focus on is already given by the teacher.[1] Through mutual interactions and discussions students will explore the problem and hence, find solutions to resolve it. However, more complicated cases do not have a clear answer to the problem which requires students to analyse the case more deeply and gather information elsewhere. The study requires students to observe the question from different perspectives - with a number of students dealing with the case it becomes an enabling environment to share opinions.[2] The activity provides students with an opportunity to apply theory learned in a course to an actual practical situation. Therefore, students are compelled to adapt their critical thinking skill, deep analysis and estimation.[3]

According to Carleton university article, case studies can be divided into project-based learning or problem-based learning. In the first case, the project is supervised by an instructor who sets up the whole activity, where students focus mainly on finding solutions to the problem. Students are expected to use previous lectures and additional materials an instructor can provide. But in the second case, students are way more independent as they decide on how they will organize their work. An instructor provides students with a problem, but further plays only a supportive role whenever students need extra help.[4]

Case Study Illustration

Formats of case studiesEdit

  1. Detailed / Extensive case studies
    This format of case study is typically used in business courses and assigned to be done individually. The volume of the work can be quite big - up to 100 pages or more. The purpose is to develop analytical skills and provide a list of solutions to be applied to the problem.
  2. Descriptive / Narrative cases
    Primarily, this type of case study was used in medical schools. The work should be about 5 pages long. In this format students should “generate hypotheses, develop the learning objectives and generate study questions for each part of the case” .
  3. Mini cases
    These cases are to be done during one class and usually are focused on a specific topic. The aim of this case study is to encourage students to apply their knowledge in practical tasks.
  4. Bullet cases
    This activity is held in pre-assessments in small groups, with a workload of 2-3 sentences.
  5. Multiple choice cases
    In this activity students are provided with a list of possible solutions to a problem and they are expected to choose the best one. The question is commonly addressed to ethics or policy problems and is held during the class.

Activity arrangementEdit

  • As there are a variety of case study formats to choose from, the activity arrangement will differ. Yet, these are the main points to keep in mind:
  • decide on a case study format you wish to assign
  • divide students into groups corresponding to the activity format
  • provide students with a real-life case/problem and (possibly) a list of follow-up questions
  • if you are dealing with a mini in-class case, divide students into breakout rooms where they will work independently
  • if it is a long-term task, student should decide themselves on the platform they will be using
  • by the assigned deadline, students will hand in their works which can then be presented in class


  • students are able to adapt their knowledge in a practical way
  • encourages students to think critically
  • learners are inspired to take an active role in building their knowledge and understanding
  • collaborative learning
  • students are dealing with higher level concepts and their adaptation in practise

How to use this method in online class?Edit

As was already mentioned before, activity arrangement depends on duration and size of a group. For in-class online activities, students can be divided into breakout rooms in Zoom or Google Meet. If students are assigned to work on the case as a project, they should decide on a platform they will be using for communication. The assignment can be submitted in Moodle, where additional materials can be uploaded. It can also be used to interact with students and access their tasks.


  1. Queen’s University, ‘Teaching and learning in higher education - Examples of Active Learning Activities’, n.d., received from
  2. Queen’s University, ‘Active learning in practice: Case Studies’, n.d., received from
  4. Educational Development Centre, ‘Experiential education: Case Studies’, Carleton University, n.d., received from