Practice Makes Perfect: Exploring Different Approaches To Entrepreneurship Education

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Entrepreneurship is like fire. Everyone likes to dance around it, but only a few have the courage to get close to it and handle the heat. These few unique individuals have burnt their fingers playing with fire, trying to understand it and master it. These passionate, highly driven risk takers are what I call entrepreneurs.

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Entrepreneurs undertake various levels of risk in pursuit of an opportunity with little assurance that their efforts will pay off. Those who succeed shape the products and services offered to us, ultimately influencing how we live. Entrepreneurs' existence is essential to the growth of every community, as they challenge the status quo and capitalize on new opportunities to benefit their target market by addressing their needs. What makes entrepreneurs different from the general public? What processes lead them to succeed? More importantly, can we learn from their diverse experiences and pass on this knowledge to others? Most importantly, is entrepreneurship teachable, given its complex, chaotic and nonlinear nature?

Thanks to questions like these, entrepreneurship education has now fallen under the radar, as some believe that the subject is one that cannot be taught. The order and linearity of teaching methods imposed by academic institutes pose a real challenge for many international secondary and post-secondary academic institutes teaching entrepreneurship. These institutions wish to provide a safe lowrisk environment for aspiring entrepreneurs to learn what it takes to be an entrepreneur and hopefully start spinning out startups that will grow to create jobs and prosperity. The economic and social impact entrepreneurs have is without a doubt one of the many reasons entrepreneurship education is so important. However, the way we approach entrepreneurship education today is outdated and needs to evolve to accommodate the ever-changing learning styles and environments of students.

1. The Personalities And Traits Approach. The first approach is focused on teaching the personalities and traits of entrepreneurs. This approach uses various personality and psychometric tests aimed at discovering who can be an entrepreneur. Research has yet to provide a strong correlation between personality types and the ability to become a successful entrepreneur. There are successful entrepreneurs who are extroverts and introverts, males and females, educated and uneducated, young and old, and from all cultures and nationalities. There are just too many variables at play making it nearly impossible to define the personality and traits associated with being an entrepreneur.

2. The Process Approach. The second approach is focused on process. The process approach emphasizes the actions of the entrepreneurs rather than their personalities and traits. Similar to an assembly line, the steps or phases of starting a business is the path aspiring entrepreneurs take in a linear fashion. Most academic institutions follow this approach when teaching entrepreneurship. These are often taught as courses in conjunction with or within business and management courses. Similarly, this approach has its limitations, as it confines the entrepreneurial process in a linear fashion and implies a specific destination. In addition, a process assumes given inputs and outputs, which is often unknown in entrepreneurship. This doesn't consistently result in the success stories aspiring for at the end of the assembly line.

3. The Method Approach. Babson College, the leading academic institute worldwide in entrepreneurship education promotes a new approach of teaching entrepreneurship as a "method." This approach focuses on learning by practice. The "method approach' represents a body of skills or techniques relevant to entrepreneurs rather than the rigid inputs and outputs presented by the process approach. The distinction is made clearer in the figure below. Dr. Heidi Neck, a leading expert on entrepreneurship education from Babson College, suggests five practices to develop an entrepreneurial mindset. These important practices are: play, empathy, creation, experimentation and reflection.

1. Play. The practice of play opens the student's minds to new ideas with all the possibilities and not limited by what exists around them. Examples: Mind-mapping, Brainstorming, Blue Sky Exercise.

2. Empathy. The practice of empathy allows the students to develop deep understanding of the customer's feeling, behaviors and ultimately what they need. Examples: Value Proposition Canvas.

3. Creation. The practice of creation pushes students to develop solutions that really meet the needs of customers. Examples: Marshmallow Challenge, Lego.

4. Experimentation. The practice of experimentation encourages students to go out and collect their own research and leaving existing info to test the impact of your idea. Examples: Business Model Canvas.

5. Reflection. The practice of reflection helps to take a step back from all the action practices and reflect on the learning to set new directions. Examples: Story Telling, Diary Writing, Open Discussions.

It's time for entrepreneurship education to shift focus from content and processes, and instead move towards practice. We need more interactivity and experiential learning, instead of the current rigid programs with defined inputs and outputs. The key to effective entrepreneurship education lies in developing insights from observing students implementing the above five practices. From there, these insights can help educators develop new tools to teach entrepreneurship. At the same time, these practices can enable aspiring entrepreneurs to develop entrepreneurial skills within our current academic systems and gradually influence it.

Just like fire, which took our species time to master, we need to continuously explore different approaches to teach entrepreneurship. Our role as entrepreneurship educators is to call everyone to dance around the fire. Not everyone will want to play with the fire, but everyone can gain some entrepreneurial skills valuable to their personal and career development.