The case for Case Studies

Rhetoric talks of 2 forms of reasoning, deductive and inductive.
Deductive starts from the general and moves to the specific and
inductive starts from the specific and moves to the general.
In the training room most of us are inductive learners.
Are you with me so far?!
If not, that is probably because I have just started with a generalised deductive statement.

The statement:
'In the training room most of us are inductive learners'
is a fairly general statement and could come across as a little detached and theoretical.
And of course one of the most common complaints of trainees is that training seems a bit theoretical and lacks relevance to their everyday work.

General theories, principles and rules can seem very dry in the training room.
It is not until they are shown in a specific context that they begin to come to life.

Therefore it is often more engaging to take an inductive approach.
And the simplest form of inductive training is to refer to specific stories or examples,
which will often take the form of a Case Study.

So let's start with a famous rhetorical example.
Below is a well-known syllogism (Don't worry - look it up later)

'All men are mortal beings
Socrates is a man
Therefore, Socrates is a mortal being.'

This starts with the general deductive statement:
'All men are mortal beings'
It then moves to the specific case of Socrates.
It therefore has a certain bookish and theoretical feel to it.
However, at work we don't deal in generalities, we deal with specific situations.
So maybe it makes more sense to try to mirror that in the training room.

Let us say we are on a First Aid course.
And to slightly massacre that famous syllogism, let us say:

'Without swift intervention, all men having a massive heart-attack will die.
Socrates is a man having a massive heart attack.
Therefore without swift intervention, Socrates will die.'

That still starts with a deductive statement  and is not a lot of use to me as the student - it is still a bit detached from reality.
Instead give me something specific that I can relate to and picture in my head and work back from.

Therefore instead of starting with:
'All men having a massive heart-attack will die'
we start with the specific case of Socrates:
a precise description of how he is looking, how he is breathing, his vital signs  and his general circumstances; all of which immediately takes me into a real life scenario and allows me to use my own reasoning to work back and discover the general principle.

The great thing about case studies is that they can be used in many ways.
They are very good at testing all the what, why, how and when questions.
They can bring training to life involving the student more completely because they reflect 'reality'.

Our First Aid trainer could use this particular case study example in various ways:
at the beginning of the day to establish how much the student already knows;
in the middle of the session to reinforce some of the theory learnt, or
at the end of a session as part of a practical test or assessment .

So rather than starting with a long dry list of principles and procedures and rules , try using a lively case study example as a way of empowering the student to discover those rules and principles in a much more memorable, meaningful way.

This article was written by Michael Ronayne, director at the College of Public Speaking and four-time UK National Public Speaking Champion.

To discover more of Michael's top training techniques, check out his professionally accredited Train the Trainer course here