Experiential Learning and Case Studies The meaning, application, and nature of case studies differ greatly across textbooks, authors, universities, and disciplines. In some environments, case studies are essentially reality, such as in medical training. In the finance classroom, it is difficult to bring reality to the place of learning. To some degree, though, case studies make this possible, while maintaining the absence of serious penalties for errors that are present "on the job." Typically, a business case provides a set of narrated facts that describe a real situation. You are required to observe, structure, and analyze the situation, synthesizing the relevant case information using tools or theories from their discipline. The objective is to engage you and your peers in a business situation, allowing you to practice theories, principles, and techniques that are emphasized in a class. This permits you to move from conceptual textbook material into an applied learning experience. Cases are unlike "back of the book" problems. The real world often does not fit nicely into the academic finance models. Since financial management is an applied discipline, it is important to provide for experiential learning. Experiential learning can be accomplished with internships and co-ops. However, these do not usually provide for exposure to a wide variety of financial situations where you can practice the principles of your academic learning. The responsibility level of internships and co-ops is also normally on the low end, separating interns from financially responsible decisions the firm must make. Cases, though, can effectively present a variety of nuances for advanced students, or can focus on more narrow lessons for the beginner. A wide set of experiences can challenge you and can produce competencies that are retained beyond your academic world and utilized on the job. Cases often do not have "correct" solutions. Even experts in the field realize that the success of a properly applied recommendation depends on factors that cannot be predicted with confidence. In financial management, decision techniques are most often based on expectations. Expectations, of course, may not pan out. For this reason, professors are typically more interested in what you can assess in your case analysis: your use of facts, diagnosis of the issue(s), proper application of theories and tools, ability to make decisions with incomplete information, and development of a sound argument consistent with the facts to support your recommendation. The case study approach in training practitioners is widely recognized and has become increasingly applied to the training of attorneys, physicians, nurses, and other professionals. Even in business cases, the analogy is that of a medical diagnosis. A physician observes symptoms, runs tests, summarizes information on a chart, and determines treatments and medications that are proper for the situation. Similarly, the finance student can observe the case symptoms (facts) facing the patient (a business, manager, or individual). For example, a firm may be experiencing declining profits, loss of market share, and high employee turnover. The task of the student is to identify the underlying problem causing these troubling facts. It would be ridiculous for a physician to treat an appendicitis patient with aspirin for the pain and fever when the appropriate treatment is an appendectomy! Similarly, the task of the business case student is to identify the real problem and take appropriate action (not just treat symptoms). More advanced classes may involve cases that capture the complexity of the business environment with no particular guidance as to how to approach the situation. For intermediate-level financial management courses, though, we focus on business problems associated specifically with financial management and narrow enough to be effective lessons, given your current and prior exposStretcher, Robert is the author of 'Cases In Financial Management', published 2004 under ISBN 9780131483439 and ISBN 0131483439.