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How to teach Entrepreneurship

The decision over how to teach entrepreneurship is heavily based on any particular course’s role within a degree program curriculum as well as the surrounding design elements of the CFEE. The choice of educational pedagogy (How) will be different depending on whether the Who are 1,000 non-business students, 50 entrepreneurship students or 5 startup founders. Institutions with deep rich entrepreneurship resources will be different than those with scare resources.

Grant, K., Gedeon, S.A., Wise, S. and Kim, P. (2014) “Teaching the Business Plan Within the Entrepreneurship Program” describe why most entrepreneurship programs worldwide have a business planning course and how different pedagogical methods may be incorporated into them depending on the design requirements. It provides a framework for business planning activities depending on whether the context is a Startup, SME or existing company seeking strategic realignment. This publication re-invents the business plan course, sets it within the context of an overall curriculum, and describes a portfolio of three Business Planning courses where these ideas were analyzed, designed and implemented at Toronto Metropolitan University:

  • ENT 726: Creating a Business Plan – Students taking a business major (who do not necessarily have a start-up in mind)
  • ENT 500: New Venture Startup – Students with no significant business education (for example engineers or creative industries students), who have at least a preliminary interest in entrepreneurial activities, but no foundational knowledge of business
  • ENT 56A/B: Entrepreneurial Skills Development (double-semester course) – Students taking an entrepreneurship major (who might reasonably be expected to follow an entrepreneurial career path)

It is useful to consider whether the purpose of any given course is to teach about entrepreneurship, for entrepreneurship, or through entrepreneurship. If teaching about entrepreneurship the pedagogy may entail hearing stories about successful entrepreneurs, doing case studies and going on field trips. If teaching for entrepreneurship the educational pedagogy may focus on building startup skills such as spotting opportunities, bootstrapping, creating financial projections and building minimum viable products. If teaching through entrepreneurship the pedagogy may focus on personal growth and developing an entrepreneurial mindset through hands-on immersive projects with self-reflective reports and journaling. In all these cases, it is clear that the best practice for entrepreneurship education involves student-centric learning pedagogies rather than traditional lecture-based teacher-centric teaching (Gedeon, 2014).

Gedeon (2016) “Experiential Learning: Entrepreneurship as a Pedagogy” Keynote Presentation at ChangSchoolTalks Experiential Learning in Action Conference, (link to video on YouTube (external link) ) describes how to teach through entrepreneurship – using entrepreneurship as a pedagogical technique to achieve skill and competency learning outcomes such as teamwork, communication, persuasion, financial management and resourcefulness as well as attitudinal learning outcomes such as alertness, agility, proactivity, grit, self-efficacy and internal locus of control. This TED-style Teach-The-Teacher presentation demonstrates how Toronto Metropolitan University’s TRSM Entrepreneurship degree program is designed to achieve their AACSB-accredited knowledge, skill and attitudinal learning outcomes by introducing, reinforcing and measuring these learning outcomes in different courses and using different entrepreneurial pedagogical techniques throughout the curriculum.

Learning entrepreneurship is like learning to play the guitar. You cannot learn to play the guitar by merely reading books or watching others do it. You need to play it till your fingers grow calluses. You need to practice, practice, practice – to make mistakes and learn from them. Like growing muscles, students need to push themselves beyond their current limits in order to grow and develop stronger entrepreneurial skills and attitudes.

Entrepreneurship is fundamentally an experiential learning process that requires student-centric educational pedagogies.

Grant & Gedeon (2019) “Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century University” identifies the major issues driving the historic transition from traditional lecture-based teaching to student-centric learning pedagogies. The role of technology, spaces for learning and institutional constraints are also addressed.

Student-centric learning is based on constructivism and the theories of situated learning and cognitive apprenticeship. These theories hold that students must construct their own cognitive scaffolding and build their own knowledge structures, expert scripts and principles. Teachers can provide parts of the puzzle, but the student must assemble the pieces together to see the total picture and transform information into usable knowledge. The learning must be situated within real world contexts so the student experiences the whole instead of just memorizing the parts. Student-centric learning means that the student must be in charge of their own learning.

Student-centric learning can be understood is contrast with teacher-centric teaching where the teacher knows all the answers and the student must passively receive the static knowledge (e.g 1+1=2). This is the standard lecture or “sage on the stage” method of teaching as described in detail in Grant & Gedeon, 2019. In contrast, in experiential student-centric learning, the teacher is a “guide from the side”, does not have all the answers, and the student and teacher must work together to discover knowledge (e.g. what do customers think about the new product? What price will customers pay? How do you attract customers to your website?). In most entrepreneurial and life contexts, knowledge is not something external to the student that must be memorized; knowledge is something the student must discover or “construct” for themselves.

As a “guide from the side” the student-centric educator provides the proper context within which learning can occur. They connect students to real-world situations, build assignments based on the desired learning outcomes, and provide open, honest feedback and inspiration to enable the students to learn for themselves.

Ryerson scholars have documented many ways that universities, degree programs and individual educators can integrate student-centric learning elements. These range from the creation of incubators (Nicholls-Nixon & Valliere (2019) “A Framework for Exploring Heterogeneity in University Business Incubators”), promotional programs (Overall, Gedeon & Valliere (2018) “What Can Universities Do to Promote Entrepreneurial Intent? An Empirical Investigation”) and extracurricular activities Gedeon (2020) “Theory-Based Design of an Entrepreneurship Micro-Credentialing and Modularisation System within a Large University Eco-System” to new degree programs and courses Gedeon (2014) “Application of best practices in university entrepreneurship education”.

Perhaps the most important innovation in experiential entrepreneurship education arises from the field of Design Thinking. Huber, Peisl, Gedeon, Brodie & Sailer (2016) “Design Thinking-Based Entrepreneurship Education: How to Incorporate Design Thinking Principles into an Entrepreneurship Course” addresses the question “What can we learn from Design Thinking to enrich entrepreneurship education?”

“This paper critically summarizes parts of the Design Thinking literature. Many of the ongoing discussions in Design Thinking show parallels to the current debate of how to best teach entrepreneurship in higher education. Therefore, this paper establishes conceptual links between these two fields and provides strategies for how to incorporate Design Thinking principles into an entrepreneurship course… nine key concepts from Design Thinking were identified to add value to the discussion about entrepreneurship education: Wicked problems, formalized Design Thinking process models, divergent and convergent thinking, iterations, T-shape, multidisciplinary teams, creative confidence, informed intuition as well as studio learning… This paper aggregates the recent literature on Design Thinking and transfers key principles to the domain of entrepreneurship education.” Huber, et al. (2016, p. 1)

One of the key concepts is that innovation starts with human-centric discovery of the customer or user’s Problem using the Double Diamond Process Design Model. This is in stark contrast to the focus of most traditional entrepreneurship classes which start with the entrepreneur’s idea for a new product or service (the Solution). This revolutionary mindset changes the way we conceptualize how to teach entrepreneurship and incorporates several new entrepreneurial theories and methods such as effectuation and Lean Startup.

One of the key concepts is that innovation starts with human-centric discovery of the customer or user’s Problem using the Double Diamond Process Design Model. This is in stark contrast to the focus of most traditional entrepreneurship classes which start with the entrepreneur’s idea for a new product or service (the Solution). This revolutionary mindset changes the way we conceptualize how to teach entrepreneurship and incorporates several new entrepreneurial theories and methods such as effectuation and Lean Startup.

The Double Diamond Process Model
(Huber, et al., 2016 p. 6)

Double Diamond Process Model

Student-Centric Learning Pedagogies (from Grant & Gedeon, 2019)

The following table provides an overview of the different techniques for integrating a range of student-centric learning pedagogies into your courses, curricula and extracurricular activities.

Pedagogical Technique

Sample References

Guide to Use

Role Playing, Simulations, Game Playing

Stumpf et al., 1991; Low, et al., 1994; Hindel, 2002

In-class use or distance education, good for developing skills in a risk-free learning environment.

Extra-Curricular Activities, Student Clubs, Startup Incubators

Haensly, 1985; Ollis, 2012, Gedeon, 2020

Used primarily to enhance the overall student experience, can also be integrated into the curriculum for project-based courses

Case Studies, Living Cases

Learned, 1991; Katz, 1995

In-class use, good for theory integration and problem-based learning

Project-Based Learning, Experiential Learning, Service Learning

Bringle & Hatcher, 1996; Kolb, et al., 2001; Beard & Wilson, 2002; Gedeon, 2014

The deepest level of student-centric learning, good for skill and attitudinal learning outcomes.

Field Experience, Internships, Co-Op Programs

Marchioro, et al., 2014;

Good for tying student jobs to their education. Good for learning skills and gaining relevant experience.

On-Line Videos, Flipped Classroom, Micro-Certification, MOOCs

Tucker, 2012; Gilboy, et al., 2015; Gedeon, 2020

Integrative capstone courses, good for tying extra-curricular activities into course credit.

Interviews, Life Stories, Field Trips, Journals, Self-Reflection Assignments

Solomon et al., 1994; Rae and Carswell, 2000; Mitchell and Chesteen, 1995

Good for introductory courses and to provide students with role models and motivation. Good for learning values, expert scripts and principles.

For a list of all REI-authored references that contain these citations, please see the References page.