The methodological dead-end in entrepreneurship education research

I am becoming increasingly disturbed by the objectivist natural science inspired methods applied in the domain of entrepreneurship education. Increasingly, the positive effects (or non-effects or negative effects) of entrepreneurship education on human minds are attempted to be uncovered by applying methods originating from the study of materials and biological processes. It is done in the tradition of “evidence based” anything, a movement increasingly strong in the domain of educational research. However, this stream of research is not uncontested, far from it. Just taking one example, the debate between Slavin and Olson is illustrative of this divide in educational research. In his article on evidence-based educational policies (see here), Slavin states: “Once we have dozens or hundreds of randomized or carefully matched experiments going on each year on all aspects of educational practice,  we will  begin  to make steady,  irreversible progress.”. But Olson retorts (see here), stating that “The  more simple  cause-effect  relations  so  important to  the physical and biological sciences are largely inappropriate to the human sciences, which trade on the beliefs, hopes, and reasons of intentional beings.”. Famous researcher Kurt Lewin already in 1951 lamented experimental research in social psychology (see here): “The greatest handicap of applied psychology has been the fact that, without proper theoretical help, it had to follow the costly, inefficient, and limited method of trial and error”. Indeed, a recently published meta-study on quantitative research on entrepreneurship education makes for rather depressing reading  (see here), which stands in sharp contrast to the everyday life-changing events that we witness in our own and others’ educational environments.

Based on this it seems to me that we need a different approach to studying effects of entrepreneurship education. Instead of quantitatively experimenting with thousands of students, in a trial-and-error manner, maybe we should focus on the cases of entrepreneurship education that from a real-life everyday perspective are perceived to cause strong effects on human beings, and try to study them more qualitatively, trying to uncover insights and learning from this kind of cases, hopefully resulting in tentative theories in the domain of entrepreneurial learning, that can then be tested quantitatively in randomized trials (or not). Had Jason Cope lived today he would probably have been heading in this direction, see his article toghether with Luke Pittaway from 2007 running in this very direction, here.

I propose that VCPs are such an environment just waiting to be studied more in detail by researchers around the world. This wave of research has however not yet been initiated (except for my own research as a doctoral student, and also of course my supervisor Karen Williams-Middleton’s research, and maybe there are more people out there doing this kind of research that I am not aware of yet).

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