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How to Use Case Studies in Your Employee Training Sessions - HRDQ

How to Use Case Studies in Your Employee Training Sessions

Case studies can be powerful tools for learning and training. They're evidence-based stories that showcase the outcomes you want, so using them as the basis for your training can make the training itself more engaging and more effective. The question is, how can you use a case study to enhance your training for learners? There are several options.

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Design a Case Study to Fit the Training

First up, you have one major decision to make. Do you design training around a case study, or do you design a case study to fit your training? Both perspectives are equally valid as long as the study results and the training program goals are aligned.

Let’s say you choose to design a case study to fit your desired training. For example, you're trying to implement the Delivering Exceptional Phone Service reproducible training course for your customer service team. To back up the training, you want a case study that showcases how putting the techniques taught in the course into practice will bolster positive outcomes with customer service.

Designing a Case Study

You have two options here.

  1. The first is simply writing a case study based on your own experiences, accentuating the necessary details relevant to the training, and pruning it down to the bare essentials to prove your point.
  2. The other option is to seek out existing case studies performed by renowned research firms that support your points.

In either case, you can then use the case study as a "real world" example of how the techniques in the training can be put to actual use and how they tangibly impact positive outcomes. Make sure to highlight specific aspects of the case study and how they relate to the practices put forth in the training module for better retention.

Develop Training to Fit a Case Study

Your second option, as an alternative, is to develop your training to fit an already existing case study.

Developing Employee Training

The process looks a little something like this:

  • Begin by finding a case study that results in the outcomes you're seeking. For example, this case study from Train Like a Champion focuses on getting training to produce long-term results, something that every company can benefit from implementing.
  • Next, review the case study. Look for salient details and mechanisms used to achieve the outcomes you desire. Ideally, the case study itself will support those mechanisms and expound upon how to use them.
  • Finally, develop a training module that integrates the case study and its data, as well as the mechanisms you uncovered, to train your employees to achieve those same outcomes.

You can accompany the training module with the case study, with details and data uncovered along the way, or you can use it as a companion piece or use it as cited sources or proof for the claims you're making. None of these choices are inherently wrong, so pick the ones that work best with your staff and your means of training to create a better learning experience.

Use a Longitudinal Case Study to Demonstrate Outcomes of Training

Longitudinal case studies are case studies that look at and measure specific data about their subjects over a long period. Such case studies can follow individuals throughout a particular period of years, their careers, or their entire lives. For example, longitudinal studies are often used in medicine to help study the long-term effects of various substances and illnesses.

A longitudinal case study can be a powerful tool for building training. You can point to specific, hard evidence that certain kinds of training not only improve short-term results and benefits for employees, clients, and companies but can increase the value of employees throughout their careers.

Demonstrating Outcomes of Training

Using this kind of case study can be an essential part of encouraging your employees to take the training seriously. After all, it's one thing to encourage employees to participate in training because it benefits customers or the company, but it's quite a different incentive if you can showcase how that training will improve their career prospects.

The tricky part about this is that case studies can prove many different points because different people have different career trajectories and leverage different skills in different ways. That is why it can be essential to begin with training modules such as What's My Leadership Style to help employees identify which individuals to follow in the case study and which outcomes are most relevant to their specific situations.

Use Miniature Case Studies to Prove Individual Points

If finding specific, relevant longitudinal studies isn't possible, an alternative approach involves leveraging small-scale case studies to reinforce key points throughout your training process. For example, throughout a comprehensive customer service training course, you can use specific case studies that highlight varied responses to an irate customer, showcasing how different approaches lead to distinct outcomes. These case studies provide tangible examples to support decisions about adopting a placating, resistant, or combative tone in customer interactions.

Using Miniature Case Studies  

The benefit to this option is that there are, in general, many more small-scale case studies than there are more extensive, longitudinal case studies. Moreover, it's much easier to find them and use them to prove your points. Long-term case studies can have surprising outcomes, and they can have findings that contradict your studies and policies. That can be difficult to reconcile unless you're willing to wholly adjust your training and direction.

The biggest potential drawback to this option is that there are many small-scale case studies, many of which can have contradictory outcomes. With the vast pool of small-scale case studies available, there is a risk of cherry-picking examples that selectively support a specific viewpoint, regardless of their overall value. This practice could compromise the integrity of the training content and may not provide a holistic representation of the topic at hand. Trainers should exercise caution and ensure that the chosen case studies are relevant, unbiased, and contribute substantively to the overall learning objectives.

Thread a Case Study Throughout Training

If you think back to some of the more effective textbook designs for schools in higher education, you may find a through-line. Many effective textbooks include an ongoing, long-term set of examples, or "characters," they follow along the way. For example, in courses where you learn a language, a textbook will often have a set of characters who interact in varying situations to showcase quirks of language, particularly conversational use of the language.

A case study can be used in this manner for your training. Fortunately, many comprehensive and overarching training courses have these kinds of examples and case studies built into them.

Threading Case Study

The goal is to allow your trainees to explore training in a multifaceted way. That might include links to studies, links to infoboxes, video interviews, and much more.

An added benefit of this training method is that you can make a single training module much more comprehensive in terms of answers to common and uncommon questions. Training employees from a point of knowledge can be surprisingly challenging because it can be tricky to judge even what the trainees don't know. Providing in-depth, interlinked, embedded answers to questions for trainees to explore helps bring everyone to the same page.

Ask Trainees to Predict Case Study Outcomes

One thing that sets effective training apart from ineffective training is the level of interactivity. When training is interactive and engaging, trainees learn much more from it by participating in "real-life" examples and demos of the training in action. This approach enables participants to apply their knowledge in real-life situations, promoting a deeper understanding and emphasizing their problem-solving ability to choose appropriate resolutions.

Predicting Case Study Outcomes

One way to help encourage engagement in training is with a case study that puts that training into action. Divide the case study between setup and resolution, and have the trainees read the setup portion of the training. Cut it off as the individuals in the case study are making their decisions based on the training (or ignoring the training).

Then, ask the trainees to predict what the outcomes will be. Encourage them to write down their predictions. Then, you can progress with the case study and reveal the actual results of the training. While some case studies may follow predictable paths, introducing occasional curveballs keeps participants on their toes. These unexpected twists challenge trainees’ critical thinking skills and their ability to adapt their problem-solving strategies. You can then discuss why they made the predictions that they did and what led them to their decisions, whether right or wrong.

This interactive approach not only transforms training into a participatory experience but also creates a platform for meaningful discussions.

Discuss Potential Alternative Outcomes in Case Studies

Like the above, you can leverage case studies and predictions to speculate. How would the outcome have changed if the individual in the case study made a different choice or acted differently?

Potential Alternative Outcomes

What changes would your employees make?

"After reading a case study together or independently, you can have your participants write a different ending to the case study. For example, if you read a story about a woman who improved her communication skills after attending a workshop (just like the one your students might be in), have them write what would happen if she didn't attend the workshop. Have them write what would happen if she was engaged/not engaged. Ask them to consider what is going on in the woman's life that might impact her ability to communicate appropriately or efficiently during the time of training. Writing a different outcome prompts participants to consider the whole story and not just the parts that are presented to them." – TrainingCourseMaterial

For an interesting case study of your own, you can ask your trainees to read a situation and convey how they would act in that situation before implementing the training in the first place. Then, progress through the training modules. When finished, ask the trainee to revisit, see how accurate their behavior is to the goal, and ask them what changes, if any, they would make.

Turn a Case Study into an Immersive Simulation

Once again, studies show that the best training is training produced in the form of an immersive simulation.  

Look for industry case studies about particular incidents. Several agencies produce comprehensive investigations into the circumstances behind industrial accidents, often in factory, warehouse, or shipping processes. These case studies can form the basis of a scenario wherein you ask your employees to role-play how they would respond if the incident occurred in your facility.

You can then use the realities of the investigation to enforce consequences in the simulated disaster. For example, say you're training employees to handle a chemical spill in a warehouse. The established procedures outline specific actions to be taken. Within the simulation, introduce a scenario where one employee is found unconscious within the chemical spill. This introduces a critical decision point: will someone attempt a rescue, and if so, will they do so without proper preparation? You can then remove this individual from the training scenario because their actions led to them being incapacitated.

Immersive Simulation Case Study

There are many such examples. Always remember that most, if not all, industrial and commercial regulations are built on the back of people dying because of loopholes or unforeseen circumstances.

This approach allows employees to engage with the training material in a hands-on, realistic manner. It not only reinforces the importance of adhering to established protocols but also highlights the potential repercussions of deviating from proper procedures. The immersive nature of these simulations helps employees internalize the lessons, making the training more impactful and applicable to their day-to-day responsibilities.

Create a Framework Case Study and Encourage Trainees to Fill it Out

Finally, another way to use case studies for training is to turn your trainees into case studies themselves. Build a framework or a template of a case study, with questions about the scenario, their responses, the training, and their behavior after the training. Encourage trainees to fill out these case study templates, then participate in training, and fill them out again. For added value, track these employees for months afterward to see where they've gone, how they've implemented their training, and how it has improved their careers.

Framework Case Study

The use of case studies can be a powerful training tool, but they can only be effective if coupled with practical training modules. After all, you can't know how to reach your goals without knowing where you are. That's why we offer dozens of training options in our reproducible training library, as well as dozens more assessments (both instructor-led and self-guided) to help establish baselines and build awareness.

Check out our training library, and find case studies that align with your company values and learning objectives.

To learn more about how to help your employees, check out our What’s My Leadership Style course. This course is a management development tool, leadership style assessment, and online training workshop. This comprehensive tool is designed to pinpoint an individual's leadership style, offering valuable insights for organizational leaders, managers, and supervisors. By utilizing this tool, professionals can enhance their performance and cultivate the skills necessary to evolve into effective and impactful leaders within their respective roles.

Do you have any questions or concerns about using case studies in your employee training sessions to provide the best outcomes for your learners? If so, please feel free to leave a comment down below, and we'll get back to you! We make it a point to reply to every message we receive, and we would be more than happy to assist you or your company however we possibly can.

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About our author

Bradford R. Glaser

Brad is President and CEO of HRDQ, a publisher of soft-skills learning solutions, and HRDQ-U, an online community for learning professionals hosting webinars, workshops, and podcasts. His 35+ years of experience in adult learning and development have fostered his passion for improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals.