Skip to main content
UDL On Campus · Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education

Case-Based Learning


What is this resource about? Learn the Case-Based Method and see how this method was used when Applying UDL in Bridge STEM OERs. Explore an Example within a course and the accompanying Sample Media Case Segment. Lastly, learn how to Produce Your Own Media Case Segment.


Why is this important for higher education? Cases are representations of real-world situations and often represent a step before learning by doing. This helps to support the development of knowledge, skills, and practices that can be applied in the workplace.

UDL Connections

Cases become more effective for all learners if they are designed according to the principles of multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement (Universal Design for Learning).

The Case-Based Method

Cases are representations of real-world situations, and have long been used in law, medical, and business schools. Cases capture our attention because they are a form of storytelling, and much of our learning comes through stories.1 They can be written out as stories with a set of discussion questions, or they can be multimedia presentations that provide rich visual and auditory representations of people in their work setting. They can present simple sets of problems, but they can also represent fairly complex problems that require students to read a substantial amount of information, examine artifacts, and use analytical thinking skills in order to meaningfully respond to key questions or issues about a case. 2

Cases simulate a situation that learners can experience independently or socially. When a group of learners analyzes a case together, they must tease apart the many factors that generated the situation and consider how they would respond if faced with the dilemma presented. Because cases offer the perspectives of different individuals, they allow learners to see that problems must be framed and resolved by people who often have different interests, values, and emotions around various issues.3 Cases are used to support critical thinking skills and produce professionals that have the knowledge they need to act.

Applying UDL to STEM Bridge OERs

This section refers to a STEM Bridge Open Educational Resource (OER), created by the National STEM Consortium in partnership with the Open Professionals Education Network (OPEN) — a collaborative effort between CAST, Creative Commons, the Open Learning Initiatives at Carnegie Mellon, and the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges. This work was funded by the Gates Foundation to support services to grantees of the United States Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College & Career Training (TAACCCT) program. As discussed in the example section below, visit the STEM Bridge Open Educational Resource (OER) for a full overview of the course, or enter the STEM Readiness course directly (choose to create a free account, or proceed without one).

Multiple Means of Representation

Dorothy Leonard, who teaches the case-based method at the Harvard Business School, suggests that cases are ways of hypothesizing, that hypothesizing helps memory, and that memories are usually visual.4 Developing multimedia cases that use visual media to show a workplace environment or how someone uses a skill in context seems a natural way to help individuals to incorporate visual memories into what they are learning about.

In the National STEM Consortium OER development effort, video is often used to convey information instead of text. For example, algebra skills are taught using a case about Jay who is interning at an electric vehicle factory. The case uses videos and images of Jay using algebra to measure car parts and this allows the learner to visualize algebra in context and tangibly see its relevance for their course of study Since reading is not a targeted skill in the course, it makes sense to use video to lessen some of the demands on students with regard to decoding text. However, visual and audio media will not be optimal for all learners, such as those who are visually or hearing impaired, and therefore transcripts and closed captioning are provided for each multimedia case segment. Throughout the curriculum, any visual representation of information, such as an image, has an alt tag and/or a long description that a screenreader can use to voice what it depicts.

Screenshot of OPEN Bridge course video case from Module 7

Representation is not only about providing alternate media to make sure that all learners can engage with the materials; it is also about providing support for higher-level recognition tasks by providing options for comprehension. For example, learners need to able to perceive the relationship between information and their role as a student, as well as their future career choices or areas of future study. This kind of comprehension “depends not upon merely perceiving information, but upon active ‘information-processing skills’ like selective attending, integrating new information with prior knowledge, strategic categorization, and active memorization”.5 Well-designed representations of roles and practices can help learners connect new knowledge to their actual performance in the workplace.

To aid comprehension, the STEM Bridge course showcases a wide range of people with different abilities, weaknesses, hopes for their careers, etc. This helps activate or supply background knowledge, guides information processing and visualization, and maximizes transfer and generalization across contexts, to allow a wide range of learners the opportunity to connect their learning with their career choices.

Multiple Means of Action and Expression

Bandura (1977) explains that the stronger our sense of self-efficacy, the more likely we are to endure the hardship of learning. Efficacy expectations, Bandura further explains, develop socially through performance accomplishments, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, and emotional arousal. He suggests that diverse models are better at improving self-efficacy because: “If people of widely differing characteristics can succeed, then observers have a reasonable basis for increasing their own sense of self-efficacy” (p.82).6 Ford’s (1992) principle of equifinality echoes Bandura. The equifinality principle claims that motivating humans is best done through demonstrating that there are a “variety of pathways to a goal in complexly organized systems” (p.257).7

The content of cases provide a great opportunity to illustrate various pathways for how individuals with different characteristics may accomplish their work tasks and their larger career goals. Similarly, interviews with people in an industry, profession, or particular work setting should reflect different perspectives on the work and how to be successful at it. In this way, students can learn that there is not one type of person that becomes a technician or engineer and this can be especially motivating for students that come from groups that are particularly underrepresented in a profession.

In addition to problem sets on algebra skills in the STEM Bridge course, learners also solve real problems by completing formative assessment activities embedded into the case-based curriculum. In the screenshots below, note that there is some variety in the methods for responding to questions, and that hints and targeted feedback encourage the learner to develop fluency through graduated levels of support.

Screenshot of two OPEN Bridge course images from the following integrated activities section
Screenshot of an assessment question

Multiple Means of Engagement

The use of cases in the STEM Bridge course provides a real-world representation of how math is used and encourages learners to operate on what they know in different ways. When cases are used alongside other pedagogical methods such as problem sets, written procedures, or lectures, they provide an alternate means of engaging with the content as well as with other students and instructors. Cases can provide ways of thinking about the context where new knowledge and skills will be used and in this way can help engage learners that need evidence of the real-world application of what they are learning.

Teaching and learning through cases is an engaging method of knowledge transfer for many learners. It can also place heavy demands on learners to connect with other learners and with instructors in real time. Applying some of the strategies recommended under the multiple means of action and expression section above can help instructors address learner variability when leading case discussions and thereby engage more learners in the conversation.

This multimedia case-based learning strategy applied to a developmental math course can provide new avenues for engagement, a critical factor for helping adult learners to enjoy learning math even when it seems challenging. The socratic “cold call” method is typically used in Business school case-based learning. Yet, in 2010, Harvard Business School, a pioneer of this method, began to reshape how students could demonstrate understanding and how faculty members monitored progress in case discussions. The goal was to address a gender gap in case participation where male students participated at far higher rates than did female students, a significant problem given that case participation could represent 50% of one’s grade. Business school faculty members began to raise issues of respect and civility in their teaching, provided hand-raising coaching to help female students ensure they could express their understanding, and added stenographers to case discussions so professors had a transcript of who added what to a case discussion, perhaps helping professors not just remember the most forcefully delivered points. The school also adopted new software that allowed professors to check on why they were calling on certain students, and their marking patterns by gender. The school also introduced alternatives to the case method with a new course where students were grouped into problem solving teams.8


Visit the STEM Bridge Open Educational Resource (OER), created by the Open Professionals Education Network (OPEN) — a collaborative effort between CAST, Creative Commons, the Open Learning Initiatives at Carnegie Mellon and the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges, funded by the Gates Foundation to support services to grantees of the United States Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College & Career Training (TAACCCT) program.

As part of this work, OPEN co-developed open educational resources with the National STEM Consortium, a 10-college consortium Round 1 TAACCCT grantee that is developing career pathways in five STEM fields. The STEM Bridge program provides an accelerated pathway to help students bring their math, reading/writing, computer and critical thinking skills to the level necessary to take full advantage of the technical curriculum in one of the five programs (National STEM Consortium, Anne Arundel Community College Guidance Memo 07-2012). For the STEM Bridge OERs, the OPEN team chose to integrate digital media, UDL, and artifacts from industry partners in a case-based approach to instruction that represents the ways STEM skills are used in real life and industry.

Enter the STEM Readiness course and then choose to create a free account, or proceed without one.

Sample Multimedia Case Segment

Meet Jay -- a main character in the STEM bridge course who must solve the problem presented in the case. In this activity, the learner puts himself or herself in Jay’s role and solves the problem. In the segment below, Jay is interning at an electric vehicle plant and must use algebra to figure out how many battery cells can fit into an electric car.


[A picture of a young man in coveralls is seen in the center of the screen. Below the picture is the title.]

FEMALE VOICE: Jay and Electric Vehicles.

[upbeat music]

[The screen changes to a close-up of Jay at work in an automotive shop. He is smiling and looking into the camera.]

FEMALE NARRATOR: Jay is a student in an electric vehicle program who has recently gotten an internship at ElectAuto.

[A picture of the inside of the ElectAuto Inc. factory warehouse. There are several levels, walkways, warning signs, monitors, equipment, and storage units in the factory.]

FEMALE NARRATOR: If Jay performs well in the internship, he will likely be hired on full time when he finishes his program at the community college.

[The screen transitions to a montage of pictures: a car motor, an assembly manual with diagrams, and a piece of machinery being worked on by two people.]

FEMALE NARRATOR: Jay’s supervisor has informed him he needs to be able to test a wide variety of electric car parts. He needs to be thorough and accurate.

[A picture of a blackboard with mathematical notations and expressions appears; then a measurement instrument fades into view.]

FEMALE NARRATOR: Many of the tests require him to use algebra as he conducts the measurements to find out if the parts work correctly.

[The screen transitions to show a section of complex machinery from an electric car, followed by a picture of a smiling young woman, in the same coveralls as Jay, who is in the background.]

FEMALE NARRATOR: His supervisor knows that using algebra to do tests can be challenging, so she assigns an experienced worker, Janet, to work closely with Jay to make sure he succeeds in this internship.

[A picture of Jay at work, smiling into the camera.]

JAY: I know that I can do a great job in this internship. I’m excited to learn how to do these tests. I don’t know everything yet, but I’ll learn.

[Text of the narration appears onscreen.]

FEMALE NARRATOR: In this module, we will follow Jay as he learns to test the electric car parts by using algebraic equations, improves his skills, and works toward being hired at ElecAuto, Inc.

[The screen returns to the opening frame with the title “Jay and Electric Vehicles” under an image of him at work. The following credits appear below:]

[Background Music and Image Credits

I will give you delicacies: by urmymuse on ccMixter
Totyota Turnover, Santa’s Electric: juretson on Flickr
...licensed under Attribution (3.0).

#88355074, #88354458, #88355797, #19081164, #88355830, #88355718: ©2012 Jupiterimages Corporation all rights reserved.]

Below are additional examples of multimedia case segments that were part of the STEM Bridge course Math Unit:

Produce Your Own Multimedia Case Segment

The video below describes how to plan, develop, and produce a universally designed multimedia case.

[Text appears on a black background.]

MALE VOICE: Instructional Design and Development Guide: 10 Easy Steps

[Underneath the existing text, new text reading “How to Plan, Develop, and Produce a Case” scrolls on screen.]

MALE NARRATOR: This video will provide an overview of how to plan, develop, and produce a case.

[The screen goes black, and then the text associated with “Step 1” appears on screen. “Choose a topic” is highlighted in yellow.]

MALE NARRATOR: Step 1: Choose a topic for your case and decide where it fits in your curriculum.

[Text fades out, while two men engaged in discussion, dressed in business attire, fade into view.]

MALE NARRATOR: With your industry partners, identify the most challenging aspects of practice found in the curriculum and decide how best to address them.

[A screenshot of an online math course reads “Unit 2: Mathematics” at the top. Underneath, tabs listing course sections appear, labeled “Arithmetic Part I,” “Arithmetic Part II,” and “Measuring Systems.” The first tab is highlighted, and we see the title “Module 2, Arithmetic Part I” above five green squares. Each square contains a learning objective, such as “Define and recognize digits, place value, whole numbers, decimal points, and decimals.” The screen fades to a shot of several graphs, tables, and charts on a desk by a keyboard and a pen.]

MALE NARRATOR: Here is an example from a community college math course. Industry experts have expressed that budgeting is a key administrative skill in the workplace. Learning arithmetic by providing a real world context, such as budgeting, helps students develop applicable skills, not merely theoretical knowledge.

[The screen goes black, and then the text associated with “Step 2” appears on screen. “Set up a timeline” is highlighted in yellow.]

MALE NARRATOR: Step 2: Set up a timeline for planning, development, and production, with UDL as the guiding framework.

[The text remains on screen, while an arrow appears from below, pointing to “UDL.”]

MALE NARRATOR: When developing a case, UDL should be considered from the outset when you create your development and production schedule. Make sure that the variety of media elements chosen to engage and support diverse learners can be integrated effectively and developed timely in the final product.

[A color-coded tabular timeline appears on screen, with tasks enumerated in all the rows of the first column, and dates listed in the first row of all the columns.]

MALE NARRATOR: Here is the timeline that was created for this community college math course. One thing to consider when creating your timeline is to block out time to review and revise your work. This includes testing your scenario with different students.

[The screen goes black, and then the text associated with “Step 3” appears on screen. “An outline” is highlighted in yellow.]

MALE NARRATOR: Step 3: Create an outline for your case story.

[The screen zooms in to various sections on an example of an outline template that has been filled-in. For example, under Topic, someone has written: “calculating a budget with basic arithmetic skills;” under Setting, “a couple who needs to re-consider their expenses as they have...;” under Characters, “Rusty (husband), Sue (wife);” etc. After a few moments, an overlaid arrow appears, pointing to “Difficult Aspect of Practices.”]

MALE NARRATOR: A case story outline includes a topic, setting, characters, a background story, practices, difficult aspects of practices, and the climax and resolution of the story. Each of these different components should be used to highlight the challenging aspects of the work in practice. For example, characters that are developed should be compelling as they confront challenges and learn lessons that are important for successful work in the field.

[The screen goes black, and then the text associated with “Step 4” appears on screen. “A detailed case” and “storyboard” are highlighted in yellow.]

MALE NARRATOR: Step 4: Write a detailed case and storyboard.

[The frame cuts to an example of a storyboard in progress. The title is “Rusty and Sue’s Budget.” In the storyboarding table, the left-hand column is entitled “Voice Over/Dialogue” and the cells in this column are filled with text. The center column is entitled “Screen” and the cells in this column have both text and images of a couple. The right hand column is entitled “Notes (Animation, Background, etc.)” and the cells in this column have only a few words or phrases.]

MALE NARRATOR: Now that you have finished your case story outline you are ready to fill in all the details. Keep in mind your limitations, such as your budget and time when deciding which media will best portray the most critical aspects of your case in a UDL way.

[The screen goes black, and then the text associated with “Step 5” appears on screen. “Get feedback” is highlighted in yellow.]

MALE NARRATOR: Step 5: Get feedback from all stakeholders.

[The screen is filled with shots of people in a variety of professional garb and settings working in teams, examining materials and discussing together.]

MALE NARRATOR: This includes curriculum developers, instructors, industry partners, and students. With all stakeholders, determine if the story components and chosen media are appropriate for the target audience.

[The screen goes black, and then the text associated with “Step 5” appears on screen. “Revise and finalize” is highlighted with yellow text.]

MALE NARRATOR: Step 6: Revise and finalize your storyboard.

[The storyboard from Step 4 reappears, this time with arrows indicating where new text or images have been added under each column.]

MALE NARRATOR: Apply the feedback from the stakeholders and make appropriate changes to all of the different storyboard elements.

[The screen cuts to the same timeline from Step 2.]

MALE NARRATOR: Additionally, make sure to revisit your timeline and adjust accordingly.

[The screen goes black, and then the text associated with “Step 7” appears on screen. “Produce media segments” is highlighted with yellow text.]

MALE NARRATOR: Step 7: Produce the case media segments.

[Screenshots from various media editing software programs.]

MALE NARRATOR: This entails collecting and editing all existing desired media, such as images, sounds, or video, as well as recording and editing all original audio and/or video elements.

[A still from a video in YouTube’s media player, with closed captions visible.]

MALE NARRATOR: Make sure to provide visual, audio and text alternatives, such as closed captions and audio descriptions.

[Images of software error messages are collaged on screen.]

MALE NARRATOR: Be mindful of any technical requirements or limitations in your target course platform that might impact media production.

[The screen goes black, and then the text associated with “Step 8” appears on screen. “Test” is highlighted with yellow text.]

MALE NARRATOR: Step 8: Test your case.

[Icons representing various hardware, software, and network systems fill the screen. The screen then cuts to images of people using various technology hardware in different settings.]

MALE NARRATOR: Check to see that all produced media works properly in all technical settings in your target hardware, software, and network infrastructure. Involve students, fellow curriculum designers, and industry partners in testing your case.

[The screen goes black, and then the text associated with “Step 9” appears on screen. “Resolve any issues” is highlighted with yellow text.]

MALE NARRATOR: Step 9: Resolve any issues discovered from testing.

[Screenshots of audio and video editing software. The screen goes black, and then the text associated with “Step 10” appears on screen. “Embed” is highlighted with yellow text.]

MALE NARRATOR: Step 10: Embed the case in your curriculum.

[An image of a video nested within an online math course, with comprehension checking questions and other features of online learning systems discernible around it.]

MALE NARRATOR: And you’re done! Good luck!

[A black background appears with the following credits:

Image Credits
Senior manager interview: Michael Kowalski
College students sitting in a classroom: lightpoet
Pen and business graph: jannoon028
Internet devices, Network connections, Sunplus series:
Loading please wait: halimqd
Group of business people, Group of industrial workers: Kurthan
Group of students: Goodluz
Group of happy business people: Jonstan Chagin
All downloaded from Used with Permission.]


This resource provided ideas for how to improve a widely used pedagogical approach: case-based learning. Addressing the principles of UDL when designing cases and when teaching with cases allows a greater number of learners to benefit from this method of transferring knowledge and better illustrates what work practices look like in the real world and how individuals carry them out. The example application of the UDL framework to OERs that use case-based learning and the short instructional video on how to build a multimedia case segment were meant to illustrate that using the case-based approach with UDL does not need to be costly or time consuming for professors or instructional designers; however, the benefits can be significant.


1Herreid, C. (1998). What Makes a Good Case? Journal of College Science Teaching 27(2).

2Ellet, W. (2007). The Case Study Handbook. How to Read, Discuss, and Write Persuasively About Cases. Harvard Business Press.

3Leonard, D. Lecture Presentation. The Art and Craft of Discussion Leadership, November 5, 2010. Harvard Business School Publishing Seminar.

4Ibid., Herreid, C. F. (1997)

5CAST, 2011; for more information, see

6Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological review, 84(2), 191.

7Ford, M. E. (1992). Motivating humans: Goals, emotions, and personal agency beliefs. Sage Publications.

8Kantor, J. (2013, Sep. 7). Harvard Business School Case Study: Gender Equity. The New York Times. Retrieved from

multiple means of representation

Multiple means of representation refers to the what of learning. Because learners vary in how they perceive and understand information, it is crucial to provide different ways of presenting content.


UDL is an educational approach based on the learning sciences with three primary principles—multiple means of representation of information, multiple means of student action and expression, and multiple means of student engagement.


Multimedia refers to the combination of several media (e.g., text, graphics, audio clips, video) to represent content concepts.


Video is the recording, reproducing, or broadcasting of moving visual images.


Audio, in this context, is a digital form or representation of sound. It is a format that stores, copies, and produces sound according to the data in its file(s).


A transcript provides a written version of content that has been presented in an audio, visual, or audiovisual format.

alt text

Alt text (alternative text) is a brief description of a single image designed to be read by a screenreader as an alternative to that image.

long description

A long description is a more extensive description of an image, typically a complex image, designed to be read by a screenreader as an alternative to that image.


A screenreader is a software application that converts the text content of a computer display into speech in order to transmit the information primarily to blind or low vision users.


Assessment is the process of gathering information about a learner’s performance using a variety of methods and materials in order to determine learners’ knowledge, skills, and motivation for the purpose of making informed educational decisions.

multiple means of action and expression

Multiple means of action and expression refers to the how of learning. Because learners vary in how they express their knowledge, it is crucial to allow them to express what they know in different ways.

case-based learning

Cases, in this context, are representations of real-life situations that simulate problem-solving experiences.


Open educational resources (OERs) are any type of educational materials that are openly and freely available for use.

industry partners

Industry partners, in this context, are individual professionals, groups, or businesses with specialized knowledge about a particular area or field, who provide expertise and support.


Captions are words that are displayed on a screen to describe audio content.