September 24, 2020


Expertise, Mental Schemas, and Case Scenarios

Experts know what they know, and they know how to apply what they know. They can do this because they have developed a rich mental schema of facts, relationships among those facts, along with the ability to select relevant sections of that schema to apply in a given situation. This schema also contains established frameworks for approaching similar problems. The challenge for novice learners is to build and refine their own mental schema. An effective approach for doing this is for experts and novices to work through the same case scenarios and compare their interpretations.

Case scenarios offer the benefit of applying course content in an authentic context, and a carefully crafted set of case scenarios can simulate a wide range of experiences in a relatively short length of time. Case scenarios also help learners prioritize course content, and justify the time and effort required to learn it. In essence, case scenarios satisfy the BDSW factor for content (Big Deal So What). Of course, this does not mean that all “case-less content” should be removed, rather it should at least be scrutinized for its continued relevance given the ever increasing amount of information available, and the rapidly changing demands for competence in the workplace.

Bottom line: A relevant workforce requires relevant mental schemas and relevant workplace competencies.

Case-Applied Learning is agnostic with regard to a specific case authoring and distribution tool, or for that matter, any instrument that links course content to specific demonstrated competencies. What matters is that learners understand what they know, and know how to apply what they understand.

One resource for authoring, sharing, and distributing case scenarios is the Applied Learning Platform, which is available at It is a product of Rick Mills Consulting LLC, and free and subscription versions are available.