Bronte Charette, Department of Chemistry

What is case-based learning?

Case-based learning (CBL) is an instructional design model that stimulates active participation by relating course content to real-world examples. Indeed, business, law, and medical schools typically use this model. Cases are stories where students analyze and consider the solutions in relation to course content of these stories.1 Students complete these types of assignments either individually or in groups where they learn to negotiate with others and question their own ideas. However, as with most group work, this can be met with student hesitation (this is a topic all on its own).

How to incorporate CBL in the classroom

The Chemistry Department at Stanford University has incorporated case-based learning as a part of their Chemical Education program. This program encourages lecturers to incorporate case-based assignments such as in Analytical Chemistry where students propose their own final projects which can range from determining fat content in local french fries to examining cyanide levels in apple juice.2 Other universities such as Temple and Griffith University offer Forensic Science courses that involve similar projects that stem from the popularity of shows such as Crime Scene Investigation (CSI).3 Also, the Australian government’s Curriculum and Assessment Authority provides a resource for examples of suggested scenarios for case-based assignments.4

Furthermore, simple ways to incorporate case studies into classes include introducing an example of one in class and assigning individual students or groups to relate a concept from class to a real-world example. For example, what are some real-world examples of chemical equilibrium and what environmental changes cause shifts in this equilibrium?

CBL laboratory experiments

Many laboratory experiments are designed as case-based studies where students have an objective and a chemistry problem, and solve and report the solution and results. However, these chemistry problems often lack real-world connectivity for non-major students (for example, finding the concentration of a chemical species in solution). This problem can therefore be addressed by helping students make those connections. For example, explaining the chemical reactions occurring in pregnancy tests, the compounds used in carbon monoxide alarms, concentration limits of devices, and water hardness tests and how it affects the softness of hair.5

Is it effective?

From a 2011 study, student attitudes towards science education (which is correlated to student achievement) were enhanced during case-based learning since it emphasized students’ ideas and demonstrates real life situations.1  When students can relate to subject matter, they are more likely to make associations leading to forming memories and promoting a higher level of cognition.


Çam, A; Geban, Ö. Effectiveness of Case-Based Learning Instruction on Epistemological Beliefs and Attitudes Toward Chemistry. J Sci Educ Technol. 2011, 20 (1), 26–32.

Case-based Learning | Department of Chemistry. Accessed Feb 27, 2019.

Cresswell, SL; Loughlin, WA. A Case-Based Scenario with Interdisciplinary Guided-Inquiry in Chemistry and Biology: Experiences of First Year Forensic Science Students. J Chem Educ. 2017, 94 (8), 1074–1082.

Examples of problem-based learning approaches in chemistry – Chemistry – VCE Advice for teachers. Accessed Feb 27, 2019.

Joe Ogborn. Inorganic chemical tests. Accessed Feb 27, 2019.

Matthew Mahavongtrakul edited this post on April 22nd, 2019.

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