When I decided to dive into the world of education several years ago, I spent a lot of time exploring models of great learning. My exploration came through reading articles on pedagogy and research, talking to educators and learners and thinking about my own experiences. Although I had been a very good student in the traditional sense, I realized that what had made the most impact on me was hands-on and experiential learning. Recently, I experienced a few events and activities that I found to be great models of experiential learning. Let’s take a look at one event on Entrepreneurship.
The Entrepreneurial Journey
Entrepreneurship is all the rage nowadays, but what does it mean at the core? What does it take to be an entrepreneur? What’s the impact if you happen to be female? These are questions that Nora Poggi sought to uncover as she created her film “She Started It“. The film takes the viewer through the journey of 2 young women starting companies, with some side trips along the way to highlight a few others. In a little over an hour, the viewer gets a good sense of the joy of success and the agony of defeat. We see the hard work, the fear, outside influences, luck and constant change. Having been in this world myself for over 20 years, I am impressed at how much of the journey comes out in one short film. Kudos to Nora and her team!
Why is this relevant to the future of education? It matters because being an entrepreneur encompasses all of the life skills schools want to teach our kids. School is about gaining knowledge but also about learning skills. Over the past 100 years, the focus has been mainly on gaining knowledge but in a world where we have easy access to knowledge and companies want workers who can add value and make an impact, the focus of school needs to include more on getting kids to acquire relevant skills.
What Are These Important Skills?
When a company is looking for a superstar, there are certain characteristic the hiring manager wants. These traits apply to seasoned employees as well as interns and entry-level positions. Some people discount the value of college interns to a company, but an intern with superstar qualities can be far better than someone with 10-years of relevant experience but without those same qualities.
Here’s what I look for in employees:
- Works independently WHILE in a team
- Puts EGO ASIDE when working with others while retaining CONFIDENCE
- Solves problems through a balance of THOUGHT, EXPLORATION, EXPERIMENTATION and asking questions
- Asks questions but NOT INSTEAD OF MAKING DECISIONS
- MAKES DECISIONS
- Incorporates DESIGN and PLANNING into the process
- Works ITERATIVELY instead of planning extensively before acting
- Makes MISTAKES and LEARNS from them
- TRIES THINGS to see if they break anything
- LEARNS PRIORITIES, so I don’t always have to set them
- Works in a PREDICTABLE fashion, PROACTIVELY COMMUNICATES schedule conflicts and doesn’t waste too much time
- Takes OWNERSHIP OF WORK and communicates proactively about progress, issues and changes
- KNOWS HOW TO LEARN technology and techniques quickly and effectively to get the job done
Is it too much to ask to hire creative, independent, thinking, action-oriented experimenters who work hard, play some and work well with others? I’ve had great luck finding these people on smaller scales over the years. They stand out. They are often times the diamond in the rough that others don’t find. They’ve helped move my companies forward, ahead of the pack. The problem is there are not enough of them.
How Does Teaching Entrepreneurship Teach These Skills?
Teaching Entrepreneurship is all about teaching skills through doing. It’s not about sitting in a classroom listening or reading a book. The students need to be thrown out into the field to do real world activities in order to truly discover what Entrepreneurship is and how it works. The beauty of this is that it doesn’t matter if the students decide to start their own companies one day because they are learning skills that will benefit them immediately and throughout their lives if they continue to practice the skills learned.
The balance within a class on Entrepreneurship is between 4 areas:
- Guided learning of foundational skills. Students learn these through the instructor (in mini-lectures, readings and videos), their own exploration on the web and in other sources of information and discussions in class and in teams.
- Hands-on creation of real components of a startup. Great classes on Entrepreneurship should include real-world activities such as creating a startup in a team, working with a real customer to assist with a Marketing need, analyzing cases and then actively performing similar or related activities.
- Exploration outside the comfort zone. Entrepreneurs also work in areas outside their comfort zones. Make sure that there are requirements for students to go there themselves. This includes venturing into the real world to talk to prospective customers, speaking in front of the class and working with components that may not be the student’s strengths (financial, artistic, writing, etc.).
- Intentional ambiguity. Since entrepreneurs always encounter ambiguous specifications and situations, students should be provided with ambiguity to gain experience making decisions, taking risks, reflecting on those experiences and learning how to navigate them through iteration.
The easy road is to put together a plan and lecture, but the gold stars of learning come from those educational situations where components are unknown and there is ambiguity.Eric Braun
Today, manufacturing jobs are scarce and more and more functions are being automated. The future of work in America is less about doing a job that follows defined rules and more about solving problems using evidence-based thinking and hands-on creation skills.
Gaining fundamental and foundational knowledge is a given in education, but let’s make sure the educational experience is transformational for students where they learn critical life skills to apply their knowledge. And this is especially true for those students who do not go on to college. High School needs to create this experiential, critical thinking foundation for life.
Most academic classes and activities concentrate on guided learning. Some classes include hands-on creation activities. A few classes may get students to explore outside their comfort zones, but this seems to happen less as students get older. Most classes do not include intentional ambiguity because this is often interpreted as “bad teaching”. However, it is perhaps the most important aspect of teaching if we want to prepare students for entrepreneurship, the “gig” economy and life in general. The easy road is to put together a plan and lecture, but the gold stars of learning come from those educational situations where components are unknown and there is ambiguity.
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