SIEF webinar #2: Re-designing entrepreneurial learning around problems and issues

Learning Reframed?

On the October 23rd, the topic of the second Societal Innovation and Enterprise Forum (SIEF) webinar was the need for entrepreneurial learning to focus on problems and issues.

Moderated by Professor Andrew Atherton, Global Director of Transnational Education, Navitas, the international panel included:

• Professor Suzi Jarvis, Founding Director, UCD Innovation Academy, University College Dublin, Ireland
• Associate Professor Colin Jones, Senior Academic Developer, Office for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching, University of Southern Queensland, Australia, and Visiting Professor, University of Wales, Trinity Saint David
• Professor Lalit Johri, former Senior Fellow in International Business, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford
• Professor Ted Fuller, UNESCO Chair on Responsible Foresight for Sustainable Development, University of Lincoln, UK

Emphasising the ‘lifeworld’

Early into the webinar, Allan Gibb’s emphasis on the ‘lifeworld’ of individuals surfaced as a dominant theme. A broader concept of the student lifeworld (as employers/employees, consumers, family members and citizens) materialised as essential for university futures. The mode of learning in universities, suggested Professor Ted Fuller, is one that must be both practical and socially oriented. Not that this type of learning is void in universities, but it remains experimental. Allan envisioned a university education as a simulation of the lifeworld, with strong links to the outside world. Yet it is a balancing act: keeping learners engaged and further motivated to solve societal problems. “Given the significant global existential challenges now faced, we need to be doing a better job today as educators” said Professor Ted Fuller

Activating Agency

Associate Professor Jones further reinforced Allan’s original ideas abound differentiating entrepreneurship education from enterprise education, questioning whether it is the general or the immediate needs of the students that should be the focus of universities. Referring to some recent research with Andy and Kathryn Penaluna, he drew attention to the importance of activating ‘student agency’, learning through activities that are meaningful and relevant to fellow learners.

Building on the points emphasised by Professor Jarvis on student engagement, Associate Professor Jones said the university learning experience should primarily be a vehicle for self-actualisation. From developing personal agency, students develop capability, which they can use, to not just create value for themselves, but for others too. There is no fixed pedagogy to facilitate this, he expressed, but it is necessary for students to identify and work on their own problems. In fact, educators should be free to draw down on a variety of approaches that fit the specific context of a learning environment. In strong unison, Professor Fuller added, different modes of learning are needed; embracing ‘ethics and morality’ within the educational process. Starting with taking care of individual needs, one can then build to the wider responsibility. Take climate change; it is not just an issue for some, it’s for everyone.

Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary

Professor Jarvis posed the question of whether universities need to be more explicitly committed to an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approach if they are to transform lives and prepare students to thrive in uncertain environments. “We need to bring disciplines together effectively to solve the big problems” she said. Whilst good examples can be found in enterprise practice, embracing a broad set of competencies and drawing on numerous functional disciplines, specialisation maintains its foothold in many universities.

Paradoxically, even in discipline dominate arena, problem-solving is still treated as a linear process rather than a continuous cycle, finding a solution, testing it, iterating on it, improving it, and testing it again. “We don’t give students enough time to iterate, to develop mastery” emphasized Professor Jarvis. Preparing students to achieve creativity and effective problem-solving teamwork requires significant time investment.

Blended Approach

But rather than say ‘learning should be reframed’ within universities, suggested Professor Johri, perhaps learning can and should be enriched around problem solving and issue resolution. These can be seen as two different dynamics, driving convergent and divergent learning. Problem-solving needs theories, concepts and tools, to competently frame problems; to generate and select from alternative solutions. ‘Customising the learning experience’ by affording students space and time to work on their chosen challenges further empowers. Although challenging to achieve, building a community of learners and sharing wisdom are key attributes of effective learning design.

All learners need to bring commitment, imagination, and experience, or risk a diluted experience or participant withdrawal. Modern-day entrepreneurs, Professor Johri continued, “don’t want or need to learn to resolve a specific problem in a set period of time”. Describing his work at the Oxford Advanced Management and Leadership Programme, he spoke of five complementary elements: knowledge, leadership, problem-solving, issue resolution, and resilience. All of which combine for an intellectually, stimulating, holistic learning context. Theories, constructs and framework are a requisite base, without which, the problem solving and issue resolution experience becomes shallow. Problems identified by the students become group learning challenges. Issue resolution is developed through debate, negotiation and simulation. Exposure to leading practitioners in their field to share their stories positively impacts mindsets. Coaching and mentoring investment to support internal resilience ranks high in importance. The model blends class discussion, participants as a community of problems-solvers, and the opportunity to develop practical, realistic solutions based on credible reasoning.

Broader sets of competencies

Perhaps though, tendered Professor Johri, we need to leave behind the mastery of the pre-pandemic days. Today’s world calls for an entirely new set of skills, a new set of competencies. We need to think in terms of the newly emerging breeds of entrepreneurs and their practices. Hopefully, this will help advance the field of enterprise and entrepreneurship. Professor Fuller added “It is true COVID has made inequality much more visible and to some extent revealed a lack of preparedness or belief that alternative futures can exist“. Perhaps, in the conjoined view of Professor Jarvis and Associate Professor Jones, it’s more about enhancing mindsets and learning agility rather than specific improvements or skill sets. As aspirations and problems change, learners must be capable of being able to shift their focus and attention.

The strength of entrepreneurial education

Prior research on a signature pedagogy for entrepreneurial students, shared Associate Professor Jones, reveals four commonalities. Naïve assumptions, unknown futures, varied needs, and delayed progression to becoming entrepreneurial. There is a great deal of diversity amongst our entrepreneurial education student cohorts and “our diverse ways of teaching, a strength“. We are not without the capability to refocus educational efforts towards the personal development process and away from purely certification accreditation, but the development of capabilities takes time.

“As highlighted by Professor Fuller, there is strength in Allan’s legacy“, said Associate Professor Jones. “There is still much work to develop and implement the right standards. The challenge now is to make full use of Allan’s entrepreneurial life world, working towards mastery, including self-mastery, rather than on predefined learning outcomes”.

Closing Remarks

Final takeaways from the panel included:

  • ‘It’s time to redefine the purpose and focus of the education, deepen its reach. Through an entrepreneurial mindset and entrepreneurial approach, educate people so that they are equipped to think and solve society’s problems in a highly uncertain world’ (Professor Johri)
  • ‘It’s not about the discipline but the transformation achieved through the experience of different modes of learning and recognition with different types of knowledge’ (Professor Fuller)
  • ‘Entrepreneurial Education has a strong foundation with Allan’s work, with a continuing collective ability, particularly in the UK. It is an embryonic field. There’s a lot of redefining to be done’ (Associate Professor Jones)
  • ‘The importance of self-actualisation of our young people. Every day in educational should count! It should not solely be about getting the degree or creating a job, but about whether humanity survives into the 22nd century. We must focus on legacy when we talk about education futures’ (Professor Jarvis).

Thanks go to Professor Andrew Atherton for his professional and engaging moderation, and to the breakout room facilitators, Yolanda Gibb and Gay Haskins.

Finally, thanks to all the panellists, and the efforts of organising committee, including Dinah Bennett, Susan Frenk, Ted Fuller, Yolanda Gibb, Gay Haskins, Keith Herrmann, Andy Penaluna, Kathryn Penaluna, Jane Rindl, Slavica Singer, Mike Thomas and Marju Unt.

The 3rd SIEF Webinar will take place on December 4th at 12.00pm UK time. The topic will be Creating entrepreneurial universities: the new frontier For further details and to enrol, please contact kherrmann@me.com or book direct via eventbrite on https://bit.ly/2KjBTxj

Adapted puzzle image: Hans-Peter Gauster


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