The Success Case Method

Posted on January 27, 2012 | in Uncategorized | by CRC

If you want to know if your program’s participants mastered the objectives of the program, the Success Case Method might be for you. (See this report for a summary of this method). This approach involves focusing on those individuals who were either particularly successful or particularly unsuccessful at learning your program’s objectives.

The approach is very purposeful, in that you don’t select a random sample of participants; you go to participants at both ends of the learner spectrum to gather information. It might seem odd to not focus on the average learner, but not so. Focusing on the extremes can offer you much more specific information that is likely to help the average learner as the goal is to seek out successes and failures and rigorously describe the story of how they got there. Design firms agree; Tim Brown, author of Change by Design (2009) believes that learning efforts directed at these two groups may provide the most useful information. For example if you want to develop user friendly kitchen gadgets you may want to focus on the elderly or children to see how they manipulate current kitchen gadgets.

The Success Case Method involves eight steps:

  1. Determine the program’s learning objectives
  2. Survey a representative sample of the learners
  3. Identify highly successful and unsuccessful learners
  4. Conduct interviews with the identified learners
  5. Attempt to quantify the impact of the teaching
  6. Identify the learning outcomes and contributions
  7. Describe the learning process
  8. Describe any factors that contributed to the learning process (including the learning context, like the room)

The most challenging aspects of this approach include developing survey questions that cover the learning objectives and interviewing the learners to appropriately and completely elicit their learning process. This is because you must adequately define success and failure as well as create a clear structure for the interview, while still remaining open to discovering new information. It is also time sensitive. Waiting too long to assess the objectives and follow-up with the learners can dramatically limit the quality of information you elicit from them. They simply may have forgotten the details of the program and how it impacted them.

Even with these few challenges, the Success Case Method is highly successful and relevant. We believe that as people continue to focus on obtaining maximum usable information in an efficient way, the popularity of this approach will likely grow.

Resource: Brinkerhoff, R. (2001). The Success Case Method. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. San Francisco, CA