Think Harvard Business School and you think the “case study” method of teaching. It’s as likely a pair as Lennon and McCartney or Kermit and Miss Piggy.
But you would be hard pressed to think of a similar pairing between a single business school and good old-fashioned lecturing, or for that matter, a school and experiential learning.
So if you’re keen on a particular way of learning, how do you match up your interests with a top business school? Not to worry. Every top business school in the world was most recently asked to estimate the percentage of “teaching method” deployed in their MBA programs. They reported the results to Bloomberg BusinessWeek when the magazine collected its data for its 2012 MBA rankings project.
The results, collected here in one place so they can be easily compared, are fascinating look at the teaching cultures of the world’s best business schools. If you’re a natural extrovert, there’s no question that a case study school is the way to go. If fighting for air time in a classroom filled with ambitious, over-achievers isn’t your idea of a good time, you probably belong in a school where lecture still looms large.
What the results show is that most schools deliver about a third of their MBA learning via case study (or at least that’s the median for the top 35 schools for which we examined the data). Stand-up lectures with professors at the head of the class are still surprisingly dominant. Team project and experiential learning, meantime, have come on really strong in recent years, with some schools claiming that as much as 25% of the MBA work is given that way.
HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL REMAINS THE NUMBER ONE CASE STUDY SCHOOL
Harvard is indeed number one when it comes to case study teaching, estimating that 80% of all the teaching over the two-year program is delivered via cases. This is despite recent curriculum changes that for the first time diminished the amount of learning provided through cases. The changes have put more team project work and experiential learning into the mix. It’s still low in comparison to case study, but Harvard is now estimating that 10% of its learning is through team projects and 5% through experiential learning.
The other top case study schools? The University of Western Ontario’s Ivey School and the University of Virginia’s Darden School reported that about 75% if their MBA programs are taught by case study. IESE Business School in Spain put the percentage at 70%, while UC-Berkeley’s Haas School and North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School both reported that half the content in their MBA programs are delivered via case study.
As a general rule, schools whose dominant teaching method is case study tend to boast the best teachers in the classroom. The reason: case study teaching requires deep engagement and challenge. Professors who are one-way educators won’t survive long in a case study environment. And the available research that identifies the schools with the best teaching faculties lines up pretty well with the schools that require the most case study teaching, such as Virginia, Harvard, and North Carolina.