The relative pedagogical effectiveness of cases and computerized
simulations have been debated for several decades. However, many of the
views within this debate are based on anecdotal material or inadequate
research (Keys & Wolfe, 1990; Lundeberg, et al., 1999). The
research on the relative effectiveness of the use of cases and computer
simulations in teaching is limited and conflicting. Keys and Wolfe, in
their 1990 review, cite several studies that conclude that students
learned more from simulations than from case studies, but they also cite
studies in which the use of cases was found to be the more effective
approach. Examples of more recent articles dealing with the
effectiveness of cases or simulations are Faria & Nulsen (1996) and
Prensky (2000), advocating the use of simulations, and Levin (1999) and
Lynn (1999), advocating the use of cases.
Cases and/or simulations are used in a broad range of
university courses, including teacher education, business fields, public
administration, various biological and physical science fields,
history, military science, political science, negotiation, psychology,
health care, medicine, and law. Cases have been used in university
training since the nineteenth century (Kimball, 1995; Merseth, 1999).
During the last part of the twentieth century, the use of cases of
various types has grown and spread to a wide range of subjects
(Wasserman, 1994). Simulations also have been used since the 1950s in a
variety of courses ranging from simple two-person exercises to complex
computer-based simulations of multiple-dimensional real-world situations
with uncertainty and unpredictability. This essay deals with the latter
The primary nexus where the use of both cases and
complex, computer-based simulations has been extensive is in
business-related courses, primarily management, marketing, and finance;
consequently, much of the research and writing about these two
pedagogical techniques has been related to courses in these areas.
However, this literature has relevance to faculty in a range of
Knotts & Keys (1997) conclude that, although much of
strategic management can be taught with either cases or games, it is
preferable to use both cases and a simulation, for a variety of reasons.
They conclude that simulations elicit greater responses from students
than do case studies and are better in enhancing self-efficacy, while
case studies are better at providing exposure to multiple industries and
building written communication skills. Fripp (1993), although an
advocate of simulations, concludes that combining them with other
learning methods produces the best results. A study of self-reports
from individuals three to five years after graduation concluded that
both computer simulations and cases had helped teach skills important in
the indviduals' current jobs, with some differentiation in the skills
best taught by each method (Teach, 1993). Li & Baillie (1993)
conclude from analysis of their data that cases and complex games play
similar roles, and they advocate integrating both learning methods.
Posted January 13, 2003
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©2003 by Rex C. Mitchell.