The mind behind authentic entrepreneurship

Multiple-award winning educator and author, Dr Colin Jones is committed to the development of authentic and transformative entrepreneurship and enterprise education. Here I gather Colin’s reflections on entrepreneurial education, and garner insight into how his personal journey shapes his students’ authentic learning environments.

On Entrepreneurial Education

What do you say to those who argue entrepreneurship can’t be taught?

I partially agree. While it can’t be taught in the traditional sense of content-led teaching, I believe it can be learned through facilitative methods that emancipate the student from pre-existing levels of ignorance. For example, lots of people say they teach ‘design thinking’ but teach it as a series of processes, essentially focusing on the content. They say you need to do this, and then ask them to follow the process; but that’s not always reconcilable to ‘designerly thinking’. You need to learn how to do the ‘thinking’ before you can effectively use the increasingly popular prescriptive design thinking process. The ‘EntreComp’ framework is useful as it provides a series of foci for educators. It doesn’t’ dictate how, or what you should teach, but provides the stimulus on thinking about and exploring entrepreneurial practice. I look forward to seeing how we move forward with its implementation, especially with regards to how we assess against ‘authentic’ performance situations.

Do you believe there is a priority competence for focus?

Not so much one priority, but I would highlight the increasing focus on agency, or as I and a few other researchers describe as self-negotiated action. We see this being at the core of our work; it underpins what entrepreneurial education should be developing within all students. That is, the ability of individual students to direct their consciousness and action towards an alignment of their inner and outer worlds, in order to succeed in life. I would also promote the ability to engage in a much deeper reflection than what is typically observed in everyday life. Entrepreneurship Education should help facilitate students with achieving a level of reflection that ensures a greater depth awareness of their assumptions, dispositions and surrounds.

You have argued that 21st-century universities need to do more work to create environments conducive for the development of entrepreneurial mindsets and behaviour, what are the key challenges for this?

In my view, the ‘modern’ university no longer creates the required space for ‘pure learning’; with priorities typically focused on ‘attracting’ students and ‘progressing’ students. To add to the challenge, as organizations, they are not particularly entrepreneurial, which can conflict with their traditional base culture. There is still too much focus on content rather than the development of the individual student. Educational leaders are often elected on the basis of research excellence, and other achievements, whilst playing by known and accepted rules. True entrepreneurial leadership needs to come from a place of authenticity, not of authority. There is much work to be done to create true ‘entrepreneurial universities’.

On Entrepreneurial Educators

What is key to an effective 21st century entrepreneurial education for educators?

Whilst entrepreneurial educators are often identified as specialists, in reality, the excellent ones are almost always generalists and/or quite multidisciplinary, with a deep appreciation of how learning can be effectively fostered. My view is that educators supporting entrepreneurial skills don’t need to have been an entrepreneur, however, they need to be able to help others learn effectively in many different contexts. I’m biased towards good educators with world life experience. I’m also a fan of differentiated learning, a practice universally used in kindergartens and primary schools, but lost by the time we school adolescents. In championing heutagogy, we restore the rights of the individual learner. So, developing excellent scholarship of teaching and Learning (SoTL) is very important in the 21st century, followed by an understanding of enterprise and entrepreneurship rather than an entrepreneur background being a prerequisite. Sadly, universities are rushing out to find entrepreneurs in residence without always first checking if they can actually help students learn beyond the specific expertise they hold.

Personal journey

In terms of educational and learning theorists, who has had the most influence on your perspectives on entrepreneurial education?

Tough question, it’s an iterative process.
John Dewey provided philosophical stimulus on the role of education in general.
Alfred Whitehead influenced my scholarly thinking, re learning in the here and now.
Roy Heath heavily impacted my thinking about a ‘type’ of student (i.e. the Reasonable Adventurer) that could be developed in the context of entrepreneurship education.
Jack Mezirow’s work on transformative learning challenged me to consider whether students were engaging in the necessary steps to be transformed and this has led me to focus more on the presence of a ‘disconcerting dilemma’ through which students may entertain deeper introspection. For students to reflect effectively, they need to challenge their ontological assumptions and question their feelings, assumptions and probe, using many iterations of the questioning. Developing pedagogy around this involves ‘discomfort’ for the student, and often for the educator.
John Sweller has captured my imagination, with his cognitive load theory, and the implications of factoring in ‘memory development’ into entrepreneurship education.

Is your pedagogy rooted in a deeper underpinning philosophy?

Yes, many philosophical ideas coalesce to produce a meta-philosophy.
Whitehead’s idea ‘less is more’, Palmers’ notion that ‘we teach who we are’, Dewey’s notion that ‘the theory of effort is the substitution of one idea for another’, and Doris’s idea that while ‘self-reflection is vitally important, most human are incapable of accurate reflection’. All of these ideas come together and lead me to choices, like adopting heutagogy and seeing cognitive load theory as essential for supporting the deep learning required to fundamentally shape the students’ cognitive architecture.

Which critical skill or competence have you most relied upon in life?

Resilience, I am relatively flawed in terms of executing aspects of my life, but proficient at bouncing back.
Curiosity, I bounce back because my curiosity keeps me ‘in the game’ and gives me momentum over and over again.

Who and why has most inspired you on your ‘entrepreneurial learning’ journey?

Professor Allan Gibb, he spoke in a simple way, expressing common-sense and helping me get a focus on what I could do to make a difference in my students’ lives.
Professor Andy Penaluna, he always has a different point of view that provides welcome perspective in moving my thinking forward and/or sideways.

While competence in the EntreComp framework are given equal focus, have you personally relied upon or worked on any specific competences in an educator context?

I have resurrected an old approach the ‘Reasonable Adventurer’ for entrepreneurship education, which develops 6 specific attributes or competences. The concept was created at Princeton in the early 1960s by Roy Heath, as an outcome of his research into the common attributes of graduates of the personal attributes required to attack the problems of everyday life with zest and originality, and be capable of creating their own opportunities for satisfaction, be that in your personal, social or professional life. I have adapted and built upon this concept to develop robust 21st century graduates. I work to curate the right experiences for my students so that they can make good progress to becoming ‘reasonable adventurers’.

The 6 attributes are:

  1. Intellectuality – To find balance between being a believer and a skeptic. To be a critical thinker, with an open perspective, that can ask good questions. To judge the circumstances or the contexts in which facts may hold or be called into question.
  2. Close friendships – Trying to understand the world views of someone else. Not to just take them on board, but simply to understand others better. I work on getting my students to be curious about and understand each other, see the world from each other’s viewpoints.
  3. Independence in value judgments – To have the courage to back one’s own convictions rather than relying on what family, friends, society or others think.
  4. Tolerance for ambiguity – Life is a series of interruption and recoveries, so, the ability to make judgements even when you don’t have enough information to make confident decisions; very important in developing an authentic learning environment.
  5. Breadth of Interest – Roy Heath called this an uncommon interest in the commonplace. Encouraging students to the opportunities present in their everyday lives, and not assuming opportunity was only possible elsewhere. Getting people to understand how you could create value in the simple world their living in. Essentially, resisting the urge to project yourself into this unbelievable world of success that you might picture. Helping them to see that they can be successful in the world they’re already in.
  6. Humour – Increasingly, so many students have a great deal of anxiety. I encourage my students to adopt a (benign) sense of humour rather than take life too seriously. To open up to fun and joy in the learning setting. A class having fun is a relaxed one, and more open to the process of learning.

Interestingly, although I have been using this approach since 2006. Pleasingly, I can map these attributes back to EntreComp competences, they’re the sort of those inputs that prepare someone for creating value in any aspects of their life.

Which of your career experiences has had the most impact of your ‘entrepreneurial education’ life journey?

Losing every dollar and possession I had during a business failure and becoming bankrupt and then, having to pick myself up through a process of reflective appreciation of myself that enabled me to gradually fall in love with myself, enable me to become accepting of my faults.

Of hopes, fears, joys or disappointments, which had the most impact on your life journey?

Sadly, fears. I experience more anxiety than I would wish for, but I am highly motivated to champion the rights of students to learn in different ways. I tend to discuss ‘my’ failures with my students, rarely my successes. I do this across all aspects of my life. Not so much to normalize failure, but rather to illustrate how good things tend to follow from the advent of significant failure. Life doesn’t end, it just gets an unexpected impetus.

What do you perceive to be the biggest challenges for the youth of the present day?

Good question. I would say understanding the importance of slowing down. Everything is at their fingertips, they are impatient, and yet deep learning requires slowing down one’s cognitive processing, developing metacognition, something almost impossible in today’s fast paced, shallow learning world.

Which country do you consider to be leading the way for the future of Entrepreneurship Education?

In my opinion, the UK (especially Wales) authentically embraces enterprise and entrepreneurship education as distinct, yet interrelated forms of education. The 2018 QAA Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education guidance (Penaluna, 2018) stands head and shoulders above anything I have seen elsewhere.

So finally, Colin, what would be the top piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?

Be braver than you were. Never attribute to malice what you can attribute to stupidity and ignorance. A quote I heard when I was 35, and wish I knew when I was 15!

Thank you, Colin, for taking time out to share your story with me today. This is an in-depth share of your journey and learning which helps deconstruct authentic entrepreneurship education.

Colin works include:

Jones, C. (2019). ‘How to Teach Entrepreneurship’. Cheltenham, UK · Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar.

Jones, C. (2019). ‘A signature pedagogy for entrepreneurship education’, Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, Vol. 26(2): pp. 243-254.

Jones, C. (2013). ‘Teaching Entrepreneurship to Postgraduates’. Cheltenham, UK · Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar.

Jones, C. (2011). ‘Teaching Entrepreneurship to Undergraduates’. Cheltenham, UK · Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar.

Jones, C., Penaluna, K. and Penaluna, A. (2019), The promise of andragogy, heutagogy and academagogy to enterprise and entrepreneurship education pedagogy, Education + Training, Vol. 61(9): pp. 1170-1185

Penaluna, A. (2018) ‘2018 QAA Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education Guidance for Higher Education providers’, London: The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

More info on the EntreComp Framework:

2 Replies to “The mind behind authentic entrepreneurship”

  1. Wonderful. I feel full of wonder and hope for the next generation. I have never been comfortable with the education system and feel that my children’s successes have been in spite off the system and more from an enlightened family background.

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone


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